Posts Tagged ‘feral cats’

cat killing bird

A few years ago, the dog blogland was enamored with a concept:  There is no pet overpopulation problem. There is only a bad animal rescue marketing problem.

In some sense, I think this is true, and as Christopher Landauer at the Border Wars blog has pointed out, the number of dogs being euthanized at shelters has dramatically dropped.

A few years ago, I was only an infant in this land of self-styled “experts” and “working dog” advocates. I believed just about everything the “elders” said until I started finding real flaws in their logic and “religious tenets.”

The concept that pet overpopulation could merely be addressed through marketing alone had a lot of people exciting came from a book called Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America (2007).

There may be some merits to what Winograd has to say about the exact nature of the pet adoption problem in North America, and I have noticed that there are really good moves on the behalf of some rescue organizations to better market dogs. For example, there are organizations that take dogs out of overfilled shelters in the South and take them up into New England, where shelter dogs are often somewhat difficult to come by.

I never read Winograd’s book, though, because I began to read some of his other writings. It turns out that he is in favor of TNR cat management plans, which go as follows:  You catch the cat in a trap. You take it to the vet. It loses its gonads. You release the cat, and it forms a colony that keep other cats from coming in. Allegedly, this keeps cat colonies manageable, but in the reality there is little scientific evidence that this strategy reduces cat populations, though there are some “science through press release” studies out there that do make these claims.

Now, I am a firm believer in biodiversity. I think extinction is a big problem, and it is well-demonstrated that the one of the major causes of extinction is invasive species.

All over the world, man has introduced species after species to places where they wreak havoc upon native animals.

The best example of an invasive predator that destroys populations of native animals is the domestic cat. Now, in the US, we don’t have as severe problem with feral cats as a country like New Zealand does. Our native fauna has evolved with predators like cats, so they have evolved mechanisms to avoid predation. However, study after study has shown that even in a mesopredator filled North America, cats are making a big dent in our wildlife populations.  According to one estimate, cats kill 1 billion birds in the US every year, and they are also taking their toll on reptile and amphibian populations.

Now, this is in North America, where  the fauna evolved with terrestrial predation. In a place like New Zealand, the bird evolved for millions of years without ever seeing a mammalian predator. The birds became terrestrial themselves. Many, such as the giant night parrot known as the kakapo, became slow and inefficient breeders. And when cats, weasels, stoats, and ferret/polecat crosses arrived in their country, the native bird population had no way of dealing with predators. Species after species went extinct. This same story has been repeated on island after island, and it’s only now that we’ve tried to rectify the mistakes. Wildlife agencies all over the world are doing the best they can to control invasive species. In some places, like the islands off the coast of Baja California, the cat population has been extirpated, and native species have been given an opportunity to return.

We may not have a dog overpopulation problem, but we certainly do have a cat overpopulation problem. We are not an island with many unique endemic species, but we do have lots of lovely little animals that are certainly being harmed through predation from cats, both free-roaming and feral.

Now, when I say we have a cat overpopulation problem, I simply mean that cats can breed in the wild. Dogs almost never produce freely breeding populations, though they certainly can. It’s  just that dogs have to learn so much in order to be effective scavengers and predators that are able to be able to raise young without humans caring for them, while cats, as somewhat lower animals, already have the instincts they need to survive on their own and rear their offspring. Further, when cats are born and raised in the wild, they become too wild to become tame. It matters not that their parents may have been pets. Without human contact during their critical periods for socialization, almost all feral cats cannot be tamed.

There are an estimated 82 million cats “owned” cats in the US, and there might be an additional 60 million ferals. These animals aren’t serving any real purpose in the ecosystem, other than they are adding to the mesopredator boom that has occurred in the United States since we’ve extirpated wolves and cougars from much of their native range.

Coyotes certainly are doing some good work on the feral cats in this country, but it’s pretty clear that coyote predation alone won’t control them.

In the Winograd world, TNR has been given near hallowed status. Never mind that these programs actually don’t end feral cat colonies. They manage them, and if this were implemented in an ecologically sensitive area, it would be a disaster. The cats would still be there killing whatever they could find.

The only way to end feral cat colonies is–gasp– to euthanize as many of them as possible.

Now, that might seem extreme, but let’s make one thing clear, we’re talking preserving as much biodiversity as possible. These cats are biological pollution. If a corporate polluter dumped chemicals into a river that killed as much wildlife as a cat colony does, you’d want them fined and forced to clean it up.

This is clean-up.

No one is saying that we should be torturing cats to death, but there is simply no good solution but to kill them.

Winograd has been challenged on this concept quite a bit. His answers actually reveal that he has a values system that is can simply be described as follows:

To hell with biodversity!

This is what Winograd has to say about those of us who think that invasive species ought to be controlled:

The idea that some animals have more value than others comes from a troubling belief that lineage determines the value of an individual animal. This belief is part of a growing and disturbing movement called “Invasion Biology.” The notion that “native” species have more value than “non-native” ones finds its roots historically in Nazi Germany, where the notion of a garden with native plants was founded on nationalistic and racist ideas “cloaked in scientific jargon.” This is not surprising. The types of arguments made for biological purity of people are exactly the same as those made for purity among animals and plants.

So I’m a Nazi because I think it is worthwhile to shoot stoats that might be preying upon New Zealand blue ducks? He can’t even argue his point without resorting to Godwin’s law, which tells you a lot about how much he’s actually carefully considered the concept of “invasive species.

Let me put it this way:

New Zealand blue ducks are native only to fast flowing streams in New Zealand.

Stoats are native to a wide range of the Northern Hemisphere. We North Americans call them short-tailed weasels or ermine, and many of our populations turn white in winter.

They are no way an endangered species.

They were introduced to New Zealand to control another invasive species, the European rabbit, which was destroying sheep grazing lands. The stoats did control rabbit numbers, but they were also able to expand much more rapidly because in addition to rabbits, New Zealand was then full of really predator-naive ground-nesting birds, most of which are now either extinct or endangered as the result of predation from animals like stoats.

Because New Zealand blue ducks are much more endangered than stoats are, it makes sense to control stoat numbers to protect the blue ducks.

It’s not a Nazi concept. It’s simply that conservationists don’t want to see a species disappear because of our stupid introduction of an invasive species.

And yes, in this calculus, the life of a blue duck is much more than that of a stoat.

That’s a reality-based calculus.

Winograd then goes on to make a strawman argument:

Trying to move the world to a mythical state that probably never existed lacks a moral or logical foundation. Nature cannot be frozen in time or returned to a pre-European past, nor is there a compelling reason why it should be. To claim that “native” species are somehow better than “introduced” species equally or better adapted to the environment is to deny the inevitable forces of migration and natural selection. No matter how many so-called “non-native” animals (and plants for that matter) are killed, the goal of total eradication can never be reached. As far as feral cats are concerned, they will always exist. To advocate for their eradication is to propose a massacre with no hope of success and no conceivable end. They exist and have a right to live, regardless of how and when they arrived or were “introduced.” Their rights as individuals supersede our own narrow, human-centric desires, which are often based on arbitrary biases, subjective aesthetics, or commercial interests.

No one is saying we want to return to a “pre-European past,” and it’s not just Europeans who have introduced species. The Polynesians brought pigs, dogs, and rats places like Hawaii and New Zealand, and it was North African traders who brought domestic cats into Sub-Saharan Africa. The goal of conservationists isn’t to return to past, but it is instead to preserve as much as we can.

Man has really waged war on nature in these past few thousand years. We have only now just begun to recognized the consequences of the war we have prosecuted. We cannot turn back time, but we can leave a few pocket behind. It may only be of aesthetic value, but in the long run, preserving biodiversity is the best thing we can do for life on the planet. Species come and species go, but the more diverse lineages we are able to leave relatively intact the better it will be for the forces of evolution to fill niches as extinction goes on.

Further, no one is saying is that we should freeze nature in time. Species have always introduced themselves through simple migration, but this not simple migration. This is man introducing a large number of species at a rate that has never occurred on the planet before.  It took thousands of years for the two species of lynx that now exist in North America to become established here, but in only a few hundred years, we have established a vast breeding population of small wildcats.

Winograd thinks this desire to control invasive species is human-centric. It is not. It is life-centric.

That Winograd would go to such logical flights of fancy about animals really shows a vast weakness in the so-called No Kill Movement.

In another post from last year, Winograd goes into a bizarre reflection about the Audubon Society to cut down some cypress trees near where he walks his dogs:

They were beautiful. A row of Monterey Cypress trees that lined a path to the ocean. They provided respite from the winds, a home for birds, shade, and oxygen in exchange for our CO2. They were part of the walking trails at Fort Funston in San Francisco and every time we reached them, the dogs would get excited. They would start vocalizing and surging ahead. They knew. Because the trees, or at least I liked to believe the trees, foretold of what was to come: The ocean was within reach. There was sand to kick up, balls to chase, water to frolic in. I don’t know if the trees meant anything to the dogs, but I loved those trees. And they exist no more. Each and every one was cut down, leaving a row of stumps, an ugly scar on the beautiful seascape of one of San Francisco’s open space treasures.

They were not cut down by loggers trying to profit from their timber. They were not cut down to make chairs or tables or copy paper or toilet tissue. They were cut down by so-called “environmentalists.” They were killed by those whose mission was supposed to be their protection. According to the local chapter of the Audubon Society, the trees were not “native” and had to be destroyed.

Well, I can tell you that introduced trees are not biologically neutral.

Take my favorite tree that I have only been able to read about:  the American chestnut.

Once a dominant tree in the Eastern forests, it is now extinct as a freely producing species in its native range.

That’s because when Japanese chestnuts were brought over, they brought with them a type of fungus that soon spread to the native chestnuts. The Japanese chestnuts had some immunity to the fungus, but the Americans did not. By 1940, the American chestnut was essentially extinct in the Eastern US.

They only chestnuts I’ve ever seen were Chinese ones that were planted as ornamentals.

Now, Winograd’s cypress trees really can’t be attacked in this way, but the Audubon Society is concerned with biodiversity. “Let’s try to preserve a bit,” is all they are saying.

If Winograd had stopped there, he might have had a point, but then he goes into this strange rant:

Invasion Biologists believe that certain plants or animals should be valued more than others if they were at a particular location “first.” When the species that were there “first” are competing for habitat with a species that came later, they assert that the latter should be eradicated. In championing such views, the movement paradoxically has embraced the use of traps, poisons, fire, and hunting, even when these cause harm, suffering, and environmental degradation. And the destruction of a beautiful tree lined path to the sea.

He has no idea why ecologists (“invasion biologists”) would want invasive species controlled in the first place.

It has nothing to do with “firstness.” It has to do with preserving bits and pieces of biodiversity when we can. Most of these invasive species have a very wide range, and when they wind up killing or supplanting unique endemic species, they create greater homogeneity throughout the world.

In the Ethiopian Highlands, there exists a relict species of canid, which we now call an Ethiopian wolf.  It now found in only two disjointed pieces of the Highlands, and one of its greatest threats is the domestic dog. Domestic dogs do occasionally interbreed with them, but their biggest threat to the wolves is they carry diseases for which the wolves have evolved no immunity.

Domestic dogs are not endangered at all, and as regular readers of this blog know, it’s one of my favorite animals.

But I don’t want to see the Ethiopian wolf go extinct because of dog-born diseases. I want to see this unique lineage of the genus Canis preserved. Not because of its “firstness,” but because I know that there is an ethic that says we should try to preserve what we can. The world that man has created is one of homogeneity and biological depauperacy.  In the long run of progress, our descendants may ask why we didn’t do more to preserve these species.

I ask that question of those people who made the dodo and the great auk disappear.

It’s an ethical question for which Winograd has no answer, and it’s why I cannot adhere to this No Killism.

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Their “job” is to destroy as much native wildlife as possible while conning people into thinking they are keeping the rat and mouse numbers in check.

It’s now time that I must disabuse people of a common misconception:

Keeping barn cats is not a  “green” way of pest control.

I know that there is a large sector of the yuppie world that wants to return to agrarianism and do things the old fashioned way.

Maybe raise some heritage seeds or some heritage turkeys.  Or maybe some pot.

Who knows!

These old-fashioned ways of agriculture are no more likely to save the world than wooden sailing ships are.

It’s just novelty and romance and with it the various delusions that the old ways were always better.

Most of these old-fashioned farm techniques are relatively harmless.  Some are beneficial, but the problem is you can’t feed the world on this sort of agriculture. We’ve had to develop modern farming techniques because we have people to feed.

One of the worst romantic notions I’ve come across is this idea that keeping a colony of barn cats is the best way to control pest populations.

I haven’t even seen any data to show that cats are very good at keeping mouse and rat numbers down in agricultural enterprises.

It’s just something that is assumed.

We also assume that cats were purposefully domesticated for rodent control purposes, but no one has provided any evidence that this is true.

In fact, it seems much more likely that cats found protection in our early villages in the Levant and Fertile Crescent (not Egypt, as was once believed). They may have lived very near people for generation after generation in much the same way that raccoons, red foxes, and European badgers do now.

My guess is these animals were the first mesopredators to benefit from our first attempts to create horticultural societies, and over time, populations of cat grew to become adept exploiters of our world. The abundance of food in the form of expanding murid populations meant the cats could end their solitary existence, and now they could begin breeding in colonies that rather resemble lion prides– sans the cooperative hunting, of course.

Some people may have kept kept pet cats in much the same way people have kept pet skunks, raccoons, or foxes.

But it seems to me somewhat difficult to accept that cats were domesticated for the purpose of rodent control.

It seems to me that this is the first mesopredator to make it big off of our attempts to bend nature to our own liking.

The problem is that so many people think cats are necessary to keeping rodent populations under control that the yuppie farmer goes out and gets a score of barn cats under the assumption that this is the most ecologically friendly way of rodent control.

Of course, if anything, it’s probably one of the worst.

Cats might prey on mice and young rats, but they also prey on birds and amphibians and reptiles.

Commercial rodent baits are actually more ecologically friendly than cats. If you place rodent baits in granaries and barns, the chances of killing a non-target species are very low, although there is always a chance.

Further, the old way of rodent control on farms didn’t actually involve cats.

My mother’s family grew up on self-sufficient farm. It had several large grain stores that were often invaded by rats.

The boys had the duty of ridding the barn of rats. This was a duty they relished.

They would take the dogs into granaries and corncribs and let the dogs kill as many rats as they could catch.

Dogs have a strong tendency to surplus kill, so one can kill a lot of rats with just a few dogs.

In fact, this was the advice of a pheasant farmer nearly one hundred years ago:

Even if you do not keep a cat, you will be surprised at the number of these highly destructive creatures roaming the countryside in search of prey if you set out a few cat traps. An ordinary rabbit trap made a little larger than usual will do. The Greenwich, Connecticut, Bird Protective Society sells a most effective box trap for cats at $3.50. In its literature it suggests a fish head or raw meat as bait and advises placing the trap in shrubbery or having it otherwise partly concealed. The David T. Abercrombie Co., 311 Broadway, New York City, carries a box trap that automatically chloroforms the cat.

Keep no cat yourself. They do not destroy birds as a rule when anyone is looking and the hour following daybreak is their favorite time for hunting, so the oft-repeated statement, “but my cat doesn’t kill birds,” is seldom based on full knowledge of the animal’s movements. Cats have been proved by medical authorities to be carriers of the germs of scarlet fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis and many other frightful diseases. See “The Cat and Transmission of Disease,” by Dr. C. A. Osborne, Biological Department, Clark University, Worcester, Mass.

In common with practically all other vermin, cats are most destructive during the breeding season, when it is impossible or unwise to confine the young in covered pens.

The farmer recommended that one get an Airedale for rodent control purposes. The dog could easily be taught to leave stock alone, and it would effectively control vermin besides the rats.

If dogs are impractical, then ferrets should be considered.

Contrary to paranoia from certain game managers, there is no evidence of domestic ferrets going wild anywhere on the North American continent. They can be used in conjunction with dogs to kill rats out of granaries and corncribs.

If one can control a ferret in a confined space, one will not have any problem with it going wild. They’ve not been proven to survive on their own anywhere on this continent anyway. They are simply too tame, and they are very poor at competing with native mustelids.

But cats don’t have that same record.

Barn cats that are allowed to breed often give birth to kittens in the woods, where they readily grow up as ferals.

And even neutered barn cats are going to take an astronomical number of other wildlife.

So if every farm had them, it would make the ecological travesties that are the feral and free-roaming cat that much worse.

Some may not appreciate it, but there are ways of controlling vermin on agricultural enterprises that don’t involve releasing an invasive superpredator into the ecosystem.

If you really want to control rats and mice, poison is a much better option.

Using dogs or ferrets or even encouraging native predators to live near you are even better choices.

Cats belong indoors.

This is not a bromide.

If you actually cared about the ecology of your area, you would understand why barn cats are just such a bad choice.

But the truth is most people don’t care that much about the ecology.

They’d rather play farmer and keep some kitties in the barn.


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The game bird's best friend.

I came across this interesting text in E. A. Quarles’s American Pheasant Breeding and Shooting (1916). This book includes practical advice from several pheasant breeding operations in the United States.  The most interesting part I have encountered in my perusal of the text is the discussion on how to control vermin and predators, which, for a pheasant breeding operation, is always a major concern.

Grain attracts rats, which spread disease, contaminate feed, and kill poults. Foxes, hawks, crows, jays, mink, raccoons, skunks, and owls also take their toll as predators.

In the early days of game bird propagation in this country, it was a common practice for people blast predatory birds. Of course, hawks and owls are now protected by federal law, but it doesn’t stop some people from shooting them to protect game birds.

However, the most interesting part of the section is on which domestic animals a game bird producer should keep to control vermin and predators.

Cats are very strongly rejected, for they are just as much a problem for pheasants as rats are:

Even if you do not keep a cat, you will be surprised at the number of these highly destructive creatures roaming the countryside in search of prey if you set out a few cat traps. An ordinary rabbit trap made a little larger than usual will do. The Greenwich, Connecticut, Bird Protective Society sells a most effective box trap for cats at $3.50. In its literature it suggests a fish head or raw meat as bait and advises placing the trap in shrubbery or having it otherwise partly concealed. The David T. Abercrombie Co., 311 Broadway, New York City, carries a box trap that automatically chloroforms the cat.

Keep no cat yourself. They do not destroy birds as a rule when anyone is looking and the hour following daybreak is their favorite time for hunting, so the oft-repeated statement, “but my cat doesn’t kill birds,” is seldom based on full knowledge of the animal’s movements. Cats have been proved by medical authorities to be carriers of the germs of scarlet fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis and many other frightful diseases. See “The Cat and Transmission of Disease,” by Dr. C. A. Osborne, Biological Department, Clark University, Worcester, Mass.

In common with practically all other vermin, cats are most destructive during the breeding season, when it is impossible or unwise to confine the young in covered pens (pg. 48).

Instead of keeping a cat to control vermin, an Airedale can do the job far better, and unlike a cat,  it can be trained to leave pheasants alone.

A Mr. Wallace Evans of St. Charles, Illinois, recommends the Airedale and the ferret as the best choice for controlling rats:

“I find it a hard battle to keep down the rats on my farm. Where there is so much feed around for them, it means one continuous fight from year end to year end to keep them within bounds. I have a number of Airedale dogs trained especially for this purpose, and also keep several ferrets; with the additional aid of steel traps and various forms of automatic traps and various kinds of poisons, I am just able to hold my own against them and prevent them from doing any serious damage. No one method alone is effective where rats are necessarily so numerous; every possible scheme should be tried and a continuous fight kept up if you want to keep them under control” (pg.52).

The book also recommends that the Airedale also be used against cats and skunks, and when one breeder’s Airedale kills a pheasant, she is easily corrected.

A well-trained Airedale is indeed a valuable asset to a game farm. Mr. Harry T. Rogers’ splendid dog, “Liz” is of this breed. She hunts his rearing fields day and night for vermin and woe to the cat, skunk or rat that she gets within striking distance of. As a young dog, “Liz” killed a cock pheasant. Seizing the bird by the legs, Mr. Rogers struck her with it a few times, and from that day this splendidly intelligent dog has never harmed a bird (pg 52).

If you hit a cat with a dead bird, I don’t think it would stay around all that long.

Dogs are much better at controlling vermin than cats are. They can be trained to leave certain species alone, and if they are large dogs, as these Airedales are, they can go after more vermin besides rodents. And they can also be used to hunt pheasants, which is in keeping with their well-deserved notoriety as perhaps the most versatile hunting dog breed– at least among breeds originating in the British Isles.

There’s a certain romance that cats keep down the mice and never kill the birds. In reality, they kill lots of birds and wildlife, even species that one would never want killed.

In a game bird breeding operation, there would always be too many problems with feral and stray cats to justify keeping a cat solely for the purpose of controlling vermin.

In the context of one of these operations, a cat would itself be vermin.

It would be like keeping a leopard to control the numbers of coyotes around a sheep farm.

A leopard would keep the coyotes down, but it also would probably take a sheep or two– or twenty.


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From the NY Times:

While public attention has focused on wind turbines as a menace to birds, a new study shows that a far greater threat may be posed by a more familiar antagonist: the pet house cat.

Nearly 80 percent of the birds were killed by predators, and cats were responsible for 47 percent of those deaths, according to the researchers, from the Smithsonian Institution and Towson University in Maryland. Death rates were particularly high in neighborhoods with large cat populations.

Predation was so serious in some areas that the catbirds could not replace their numbers for the next generation, according to the researchers, who affixed tiny radio transmitters to the birds to follow them. It is the first scientific study to calculate what fraction of bird deaths during the vulnerable fledgling stage can be attributed to cats.

“Cats are way up there in terms of threats to birds — they are a formidable force in driving out native species,” said Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, one of the authors of the study.

The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to 500 million birds are killed each year by cats — about half by pets and half by feral felines. “I hope we can now stop minimizing and trivializing the impacts that outdoor cats have on the environment and start addressing the serious problem of cat predation,” said Darin Schroeder, the group’s vice president for conservation advocacy.

By contrast, 440,000 birds are killed by wind turbines each year, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, although that number is expected to exceed one million by 2030 as the number of wind farms grows to meet increased demand.

The American Bird Conservancy generally supports the development of wind energy, but it argues that wind farms should be “bird smart” — for example, positioned so that they do not interfere with major migration paths or disturb breeding grounds, with their power lines buried to prevent collisions.

“I’m excited about wind; we just have to be careful where and how we put the turbines,” said Dr. Marra, who studies threats to birds, including from climate change and habitat loss. He said the leading cause of bird deaths over all, as opposed to the catbird fledglings in the study, remained collisions with buildings, windows and towers, followed by predators.

Yet wind turbines often provoke greater outrage than cats do, said Gavin Shire, vice president of the Bird Conservancy. “The idea of a man-made machine chopping a bird in half creates a visceral reaction,” he said, “while the idea of a predator with its prey in its mouth — well we’ve seen that on the Nature Channel. People’s reaction is that it is normal for cats to kill birds.”

Household cats were introduced in North America by European colonists; they are regarded as an invasive species and have few natural enemies to check their numbers. “They are like gypsy moths and kudzu — they cause major ecological disruption,” Dr. Marra said.

The difference between 500 million and 440,000 to eventually 1 million is not trivial.

I’m sure that if the eventual calculations of bird deaths are tabulated on wind energy that it will never approach the number of birds killed by cats.

But I could be wrong.

However, it is pretty clear that cats are not a trivial threat to bird populations.

They are also not natural predators and exist at much higher densities than any of the natural predators on this continent.

Not all cats are great killers, but many are. It just takes a tiny fraction of the huge domestic and feral cat population to cause massive consequences with bird populations.

This study was among suburban bird populations, and it strongly suggests that the much feted cat management strategy called TNR, which is often exercised in suburban or urban environments, is not an ecologically friendly endeavor.

Feral cats are like pollution. If someone or some firm introduced a pollutant into the environment that did to birds and small mammals and reptiles what cats do to them, we would want that person clapped in irons and that firm put out of business.

But because we think predation by feral and free-roaming domestic cats is just fine, we tolerate this nonsense.


HT to Emily S  for passing this study along.


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For all you who attack me for not going along with TNR or who get angry at me for even suggesting that cats be kept indoors or within outdoor enclosures, I have a modest proposal.

I suggest that we allow someone who has one of these cats to let his pet roam freely in your neighborhood under the same standards with which you tolerate free-roaming and feral cats:

Like most free roaming and feral domestic cats, it won’t be a skilled predator at first. So it will probably maim and maul a few children and domestic dogs before it becomes truly lethal.

Eventually, the man with the leopard will have his pretty pet leaving human and dog body parts at the door– just to show his owner what a great killer he is!

Scores of children and dogs and probably suburban deer and raccoon will succumb to the great cat.

But because we have the same standard for this free-roaming leopard as free roaming domestic cats, no one can do anything about it.

Now, you know that this scenario is absurd.

But if you really think about it, free roaming cats and ferals are leopards to small birds, mammals, and reptiles.One free-roaming cat could easily do as much damage to those species as our hypothetical free-roaming leopard would do to humans, dogs, and larger wildlife.

And this problem is made worse because it is socially acceptable in too many places to allow cats to roam. Dogs normally are strictly controlled by ordinances. If you can find a nice place that allows dogs some liberty, all power to you. Governments are quite authoritarian about dogs, but cats are essentially ignored.

This makes no sense in terms of ecology. Dogs actually have to learn how to hunt, and they be trained to leave wildlife alone. Cats are instinctive predators, and it is very difficult to teach them anything. The cat family has undergone an evolution toward great jaw strength and muscle mass, while the dog family has undergone an evolution towards greater social intelligence and greater endurance. That’s why dogs are generally less of an ecological problem than one might think– although they certainly are in places like the Galapagos.

In too many parts of the country, cats are deemed domestic animals, even if they cannot be tamed and are breeding freely in the wild. That means that wildlife management agencies have no jurisdiction over them. This legal limbo allows cats to exist in certain areas without ever experiencing the kind of controls that are needed to protect both public health and native wildlife.

So while it would be insane to let someone turn his leopard loose on a neighborhood, we have allowed a leopard of a smaller sort to run amok through our ecosystems for far too long.  To a songbird or rabbit kit, the house cat is a leopard of the fellest kind.

But it is impossible to have a rational discussion about any of this.

Cats are America’s sacred cows.

The evidence is very clear about what sort of ecological damage they do. The level of denialism on that compendium of studies is breathtaking. Only creationists are more brazen in their attacks on what the evidence actually says.

If a individual or firm released a pollutant that sort of damage, you would want fines issued and arrests made. You’d want the firm put out of business.

But cats are cute. CEO’s are not.

Who cares about the facts?



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Warning: What follows will tick some people off.


This cat was shot in Australia, a place that never had felines on it until European colonized. (Granted, that claim is hotly debated).

Cats have been tied to the collapse of many bird, rodents, and small marsupial populations. Extinctions from cat predation have been documented.

Cats in the Australian bush do not have to compete with a wide array of competing predators, so they are evolving into larger specimens than the typical moggie. (They are not becoming puma or even bobcat-sized, but unusually large feral cats are quite common in parts of Australia.)

Just as the dingo is derived from Indonesian domestic dogs that evolved to live as wildlife in the Australian outback, the cat is also evolving to fit a niche.

However, in doing so, they are causing real problems with Australia’s native fauna.

That’s why predator control for both foxes and feral cats is necessary in Australia.

And it needs to be much more extensive than anything we have attempted in this country.

Our wildlife does suffer cat depredations, but they evolved with similar predators. We have small wild cats that are native to our soil. We also have native foxes, native raccoons, native skunks, and native mustelids.

Australia does not.

And to save their native animals, the shotgun and the fox squealer must be employed.

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I know that some of you were a bit surprised at my reaction to cats.

Don’t you love all animals?

Well, I do.

However, I have a very hard time reading cats. I can read other animals pretty well.

But everything about cats seems backward to me.

I can tell what dogs and horses are thinking simply by looking at their eyes and facial expressions.

But get me before a cat, and I’m entirely flummoxed.

Cats also generally don’t like me.

The cats that generally do like me are of the oriental breeds, and for some reason, I can figure them out.


The cat is forever an enigma to me, and because of this lack of understanding, I have a very hard time appreciating them.

Some of these issues may stem from their ecological impact. They do kill lots of birds and small mammals. They are in no way native to this continent, although there are very similar native predators here.

I have that same feeling towards stray dogs in Australia and the Galapagos.

Dogs are nice creatures. I get them. I’ve always been around dogs. Sometimes I think I have a better reading of the canine than human communication.

But dogs running loose int he wrong areas are hurting things.

But dogs are not really effective predators of anything. Indeed, their default is scavenging, simply because so much of their actual predatory behavior must be learned. Even captive-bred wolves don’t stand much of a chance in the wild. They have the motor patterns, but they have to learn how to use them.

Cats are naturals.

It may not even be fair to call them domestic animals. They are more like “bred in captivity” or “semi-domesticated.”  Most of them could live very well without any humans around.

And that’s precisely the problem.

But it is amazing to me the double standards that exist between what is expected of dogs and what is expected of cats in terms of the law and society.

The cat is essentially given carte blanche to do as it wants. Most cats aren’t even in breeds or varieties. Their genes flow freely. They are not required to be leashed in most areas, even if they kill off all game birds, song birds, and small mammals within a 20 mile radius.

Well some people did try to do something about it. It failed, but I still support that effort in theory. Of course, I don’t think anyone would say anything to anyone who shot a couple of alley cats here.

Nobody cares what cats do.

In India, there are cows.

In America, there are cats.

I get called a bigot because I think we should license cats. I get called a bigot when I say that they shouldn’t be allowed to roam without human supervision.

They are that effective at killing things.

Dogs can be given liberties because they can learn to behave in our society.

That’s because dogs are domesticated in every since of the word.

But letting a cat roam is just not a good idea.

Would you like it if someone turned a Bengal tiger loose in your neighborhood?

Well, to a chipmunk or a wild turkey poult, a tabby is a Bengal tiger.

And that tabby has about as much right to running around killing things as a Bengal tiger would.

But then I’m a bigot who can’t appreciate cats.

I do, but as predators, they must be kept in their place.


Of course, I’d love to have a cat hat:


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cat kills bird

Now, I must point out that I was not raised a cat person. Indeed, I was raised with a certain amount antipathy towards stray and feral cats.  That’s because cats kill birds and squirrels, which were the animals that my grandpa liked to preserve on his property.  Now, he taught me most of what I know about nature and wildlife, and most of it I’ve read repeated in scientific wildlife journals and publications. He had a deep hatred of feral cats and opossums. For some reason, he regarded opossums as a non-native species.  It didn’t really matter. He saw both as mortal threats to game birds, song birds, and squirrels.

Now, he always kept dogs. His preferred breed was the Norwegian elkhound, especially the black breed of Norwegian elkhound. He liked them because they had enougn variation of hunting instincts to be used on a wide variety of game. His dogs, as a result, were very fierce cat hunters. However, that often caused a problem whenever he took them to the small animal vet for vaccines and check-ups. These dogs had to enter through be back door, because they would go so crazy at the sight or smell of a cat that they would forget all of their training and go berserk.

Well, today, the number of cat hating dogs on the property is zero. My golden retriever thinks cats are just very strange looking dogs, and she wants to play with them. My skunk-killing golden boxer had a penchant for cat hunting, but since her death from osteosarcoma last year, we’ve been without cat control.

Ah, but mother nature has decided to help keep the cat numbers low.

In the past few years, a weapon of feline destruction has established itself in my part of the world.

We now now have a healthy population of coyotes, and they have a taste for cat meat. When they first arrived here, people complained that they would kill all the deer. That’s nonsense, because the deer population is higher than it ever was, even with some predation from coyotes (mainly on the fawns). They also complained that it would be the end of foxes, but I see foxes of both species rather regularly. And the bobcats seem to be doing fine, despite some competition from the coyote for prey.

The only animals that seem to be affected by coyotes are cottontail rabbits, which nearly disappear in the winter months, and feral cats. The coyotes more easily pick off the rabbits when the ground becomes bare in the winter, and the rabbits lose their hiding places in the dense weeds.

Feral cats don’t last long around here. The coyotes must hanker for cat meat. I don’t know what it is, but the coyotes eat lots of them. In fact, cats must be such a delicacy for coyotes that I’ve known people to lose cats off their front porches. One local was feeding his cat off the back deck. He poured the cat food out one morning and went inside to turn on the coffee pot.  He hadn’t been gone 30 seconds when he heard his cat screaming. When he rushed out to see what was the matter, he just caught a glimpse of the coyote rushing off with the cat in its jaws.

So mother nature has figured out a way to keep the feral cats under control.  However, I don’t think they are the main solution to the problem everywhere. Even though coyotes live very well in urban and suburuban environments, I don’t think they can exist in enough numbers to really control the cat population. That’s not because the coyotes can’t live well there. It’s just that cats, as domestic animals, can live at even higher densities in those environments than do in rural areas. In that case, the best solution is to have euthanize feral cats. In rural areas where coyotes can’t make a dent in their populations, I suggest hunting them.

I’m not an advocate of trap, neuter, and release. I’m sorry. I know that not PC.

But cats are major hazard to the ecology of so many species. They are currently the most widespread carnivore on the planet, and while they do keep pest rodent numbers in check, they have been responsible for extinctions, like the Stephens Island Wren, which once thought to have been wiped out by predation from a single cat.

Now, I think what we have to do is have a licensing system for cats.  That’s going to be necessary if we are ever going to do the cat control measures that are going to be necessary. We need some way to prevent killing owned cats. Currently, only one state has a licensing system for cats, and that’s Rhode Island. When a similar bill was proposed in the West Virginia legislature, the legislators meowed at the legislator who proposed it.

However, I don’t think this is a laughing matter. We dog owners know that there are lots of laws that prevent our dogs from running at large and from trespassing on property of others. We know that a dog can be shot if it wanders on to a farmer’s property and even looks like a threat to his livestock.

In most jurisdictions, the laws for cats are far more lenient. Cats can do whatever they want. It doesn’t matter how many species they kill.  Many people would like to shoot cats that kill birds and squirrels.

But because proving ownership is so hard with cats, one would be worried about doing something like that in this day and age. Consider the case of Jim Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society. He was tired of cats killing native bird species, so he took matters into his own hands. He shot a cat with a .22, and he was charge under a felony animal cruelty law and faced up to two years in prison. The cat was about to kill a piping plover when Stevenson shot it.

However, the prosecution said that he had shot an owned cat, even though the cat was a stray.  A toll booth operator had been been feeding the cats and even providing bed for them under a bridge. The operator caught Stevenson and yelled at him. It was the operator who called the police and got the whole criminal proceedings started.

The jury could not come to a consensus on convicting Stevenson, and a mistrial was declared. And then, as a result of the Stevenson case,  Texas passed a law making it illegal to kill feral cats– an incredibily stupid law.

Now, if every state would license cats, we would be able to prove ownership, and it would be okay to have cat controls. If every state would also pass laws allowing municipalities to regulate free roaming cats, we could solve this problem.

But most states and municipalities let cats have free range. Dogs do not get the same liberties. If we would start regulating cats in just a few ways we regulate dogs, we might be able to end the feral cat problem.

Otherwise, the coyotes are our only hope.

(I’m not against cat ownership. I’m against the blasted things killing all the birds and small mammals. I’m also not opposed to keeping barn cats to control rodents around agricultural enterprises. I am opposed to letting cats roam, but in my area, this problem is largely solved by Canis latrans.)

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