How Outdoor Cats Impact The Environment
My friends at the trade publication, Pet Product News International are about more than just pet products. I consider them a valuable watchdog agency because they alert me to a variety of animal related issues that usually aren’t reported by the mainstream media.
A case in point is the March, 2013 edition where Clay Jackson reports on a study published in January by the journal Nature Communications. The study was conducted by Peter Marra and Scott Loss of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Tom Will of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Birds.
These guys pored over some 90 studies on cat predation to come up with some eye-popping numbers, and a war of words between some conservation and advocacy organizations.
When you’re talking about cats, you’re touching a raw nerve among a lot of folks, and when you’re talking about the victims in this report, you’re dealing with a house divided. First, let’s look at the study’s key finding.
Expressed in median figures, the study revealed that some 2.4 billion (yes, with a “b”) birds are killed each year by felis catus, the cat. I wonder if that’s where star of film and print Felix The Cat got his name. But I digress.
If you think that’s a big number, how would you like to be a small mammal such as a mouse, a vole, a squirrel or a rabbit?
In the United States alone, cats that roam freely kill some 12.3 billion of them each year. The fact that these species are such prolific breeders is nature's way of compensating them for being a prey animal.
While backyard cats are acknowledged as significant contributors to these stats, the study reports that 80 million farm cats, strays and ferals are responsible for 69% of bird mortality and 89% of mammal mortality.
OK, let’s break out the gloves.
In This Corner...
Washington, D.C. is home to the American Bird Conservancy, and its president, George Fenwick, Ph.D., was quoted in the report thusly: “This study…demonstrates that the issue of cat predation on birds and mammals is an even bigger environmental and ecological threat that we thought.”
And in This Corner...
Just up the road a piece, in Bethesda, Maryland, is the cat advocacy group Alley Cat Allies. Their president, Becky Robinson, said the findings were “part of the continuing propaganda to vilify feral cats,” adding that the study was “bad science” and “a veiled promotion by bird advocates to ramp up the mass-killing of outdoor cats.”
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Are the Average Joe and Jane Hypocrites?
Veering off course just a bit, away from the study, I’d like to insert a personal observation. Some of the victims…the small mammals…are also victims of a double standard.
If the study reported on just the birds that were being killed by outdoor cats, me thinks that news would be enough to sound the alarm.
But, what if the study just reported on the mammals that were being killed by outdoor cats?
I submit that the only sound to be heard would be a collective yawn, or perhaps some cheering.
The mammals are considered by most to be pesky vermin. Even the rabbits, which decimate vegetable gardens all across the U.S.A.
But, even pesky vermin have a niche; an important role in environmental affairs.
SCIENTISTS vs BLEEDING HEARTS
The study’s authors acknowledged that matters of the heart oft times trump objective science when they concluded: “Despite these harmful effects, policies for management of free-ranging cat populations and regulation of pet ownership behaviors are dictated by animal welfare issues rather than ecological impacts.”
But wait a minute you scientists; doesn’t this quote make sense: “Because of the success of TNR (trap-neuter-release), which stabilizes then reduces the population; places where there were once large colonies of feral cats have seen those colonies fade away.” That quote came from Alley Cat Allies’ Robinson.
It's possible that some cientists might dismiss the quote as anecdotal and question how many birds and mammals would be killed while the colony is fading away.
I'll bet that would make for a most interesting study.
After looking at how many birds are killed annually, by a variety of causes, one has to wonder how long it will be before we run out of birds.
If only birds were as prolific breeders as small mammals are.
We'd pretty much be assured of a never-ending population of them.