Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Feral Cat Problem as a Symptom of Human Overpopulation

Following up on Zwichenzug's post on cat hunting being voted down in Wisconsin, I think it's interesting that Minnesota and South Dakota allow people to deal with the local feral cat problem using firearms, even if Wisconsin is too civilized for such things.

I've read about Australia's problems with feral cats before and so I wondered if something could be learned about the merits of shooting cats in America from the Australian experience. The debate over killing cats is so polemical, that it's hard to get good data, however, this article by Sarah Hartwell provides a nuanced view of the issues around cat control.

In Hartwell's survey of the data, she finds that cars probably kill more wildlife each year than feral cats.

Concerned about unrealistic figures, other parties have put Dr Paton's figures in perspective. Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES) in Dubbo, New South Wales applied his methods to a survey of road-killed wildlife along a single stretch of road over several days. They counted road-killed animals ranging from 'Roos to Rosellas (budgie-like birds) along this stretch of road. Using this equally unrepresentative sample they arrived at a figure of 19 road-killed animals per km of road annually. Multiplying that by the amount of road in the whole of Australia, the final figure demonstrated that cars were far more effective predators than cats!

WIRES Central Coast Branch statistics revealed 33% of wildlife deaths due to cats, 36% due to man, with the remainder due to natural causes, disease and other predators. The Central Coast area contains more pet cats which took prey home, while Dubbo has more ferals whose hunting activities cannot easily be monitored. Yet rather than blaming cats, WIRES encourages owners to keep cats indoors overnight.

Though initally used as a guideline, by August 1994 Dr Paton's survey had been discredited. Observation of hunting cats had shown that they preferred rabbit or feral pigeons. Birds and small lizards are not practical prey for a healthy feral cat. The death of countless native animals as a result of poison laid for mice during a recent mouse plague showed that the impact of cats on wildlife was overshadowed by the impact of indiscriminate killing methods employed by humans.|Link|


Writing on the merits of hunting urban cats, Hartwell points out that the cats often kill introduced pests and that spaying them and returning them to the cityscape may be a better solution than killing them.

While bush cats may pose a far greater risk to wildlife, urban ferals may have less contact with indigenous species and may perform a useful function in controlling introduced vermin such as rats, mice and pigeons. In some circumstances it becomes feasible to manage colonies as the lesser of two evils.

The feral issue was raised at the Australian Veterinary Association conference where a Australian National University spokesman quoted a study into environmental and health effects of cats living on 4 rubbish dumps. Whenever cats were culled (usually six-monthly), rodent numbers increased posing an equal threat to wildlife as well as carrying zoonotic diseases. He noted that feral cats from the surrounding area quickly recolonised the dump, forming breeding colonies, indicating that culling was an ineffective long-term cat-management strategy. In such situations, trap-neuter-return schemes, such as those carried out by Cats Assistance to Sterilise (C.A.T.S.) can provide a workable alternative. Dumps attract rats which attract cats, but rodenticides pose a danger to small native animals. Unneutered cats breed, but culling simply clears room for new cats (vacuum effect). In situations where the cats perform a useful service, the establishment of small stable colonies of neutered ferals (euthanasing diseased cats) deter other (usually unneutered) cats from moving in, do not breed and continue to control rats and mice.|Link|


It appears to this author that cats are but one element of threat introduced into the environment by humans. The real threat to the environment is the whole range of destructive human practices from factory farming to draining wetlands to dumping toxic waste into the air, soil, and water.

I think it's about time we started encouraging people NOT to have children. How about tax breaks for childless couples and HIGHER taxes for having a passel of children. Of course, these proposals should also be combined with programs to encourage voluntary simplicity, sustainable society, and renewable energy.

To think that we can solve these pressing environmental issues with our firearms is indicative of our inability as a group to accept responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

Note: Cross-posted at the Bellman.

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