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The Impact of Pet Cats on Wildlife and the Environment
Cats are ruining our ecosystem, yet we fight to keep the problem persisting
I have always been invested in this topic, both emotionally and logically, and I can't ignore things that are clearly wrong. I am certainly not a rabbit or song-bird crazy person, opting to prefer less conventionally-adored animals like bugs and snakes.
Yet things that result in abuse that are also so patently unnecessary (like fur), drive me up the wall.
To add to the piling research of past domestic cat predation studies, as well as flat out common sense (which is ironically, uncommon) another ‘captain obvious’ report has emerged with attention-grabbing results to support what I’ve been complaining about for years now.
Domesticated cats are an invasive species and are an extreme danger to wildlife.
I find this heavily ironic as an exotic pet owner, who has been told by numerous people that I should not have the animals that I have, and that I should just get a domesticated animal like a cat (unspecified if adopted or purchased).
Animal rights groups also, among many hyperbolic criticisms, point out that exotic animals pose a great threat to our ecosystem and purport that citizens should stick to supporting the domesticated animal trade.
As a result, many states have enacted complete bans of animal species being kept as pets.
Cats vs. Exotic Pets
It is amazing to consider that while many smaller animals which have no convincing data on their potential to become an invasive species are scrutinized and banned, no bans or regulations exist for a well-established, scientifically-proven invasive species.
Unbelievably, there are also no laws against permitting owners of these invasive animals to allow their animals to roam at large, which results in the violation of rights of non-cat owners (or responsible cat owners that restrict their pets to their own property). Roaming cats are vectors for disease, a detriment to the environment, and they often annoy people and may destroy or contaminate their property.
To put things into perspective, it is currently legal for me to buy a cat and set it free outside, fixed or not, in all of the states, yet in some places it is not legal to own ferrets, gerbils, and other 'exotic animals' that will remain exclusively indoors and will not pose a disease threat to anyone outside of that household.
Thank you NY Times and BBC, you actually got it right for once
- BBC News - Cats killing billions of animals in the US
Cats are killing billions of birds and other animals in the US each year, a new study suggests.
A pet cat torturing a small lizard
The new study reveals that cats (including feral cats) are responsible for the deaths of a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year. Apparently these kill rates are 2-4 times higher than originally believed, although it's not like any of that matters.
2.4 million, 1 million, 1,000, even 200 dead animals as a result of pet cats is not acceptable. Feral cats are at least killing to survive, but their populations are obviously out of control.
The article states that cats as a whole are "one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills".
These claims are unsurprisingly being denied by the special interest group 'Alley Cat Allies' and various cat lovers (emphasis on cat lover, they are not animal or nature lovers).
It should be firmly understood that no such evidence will ever convince individuals who believe cats deserve special treatment over all other animals that sometimes the right thing to do isn't always the most emotionally favorable. In many cases, and probably most cases, cats should be humanely euthanized. Only where TnR (the process of actually releasing cats back into the environment) is PROVEN to be effective would it make sense to compromise with this. Most cat lovers will not hear of it.
Neutering an invasive species
TNR, which stands for trap, neuter, and release, is a popular practice that causes mostly well-meaning (although naïve) animal caretakers to re-place captured, invasive, free-roaming feral cats back into the environment for a short 2-3 year lifespan of stress.
While TNR methods may assuage the emotional resilience people have toward euthanasia against cats, the result is the inhumane deaths of native wildlife.
TNR workers often cite that the 'vacuum effect' (more cats will replace the ones removed) will make humane euthanasia ineffective and TNR a better option. I theorize that perhaps this method might work for some locations where the cat populations are not numerous, but how long are we expected to maintain invasive predators until they will supposedly disappear?
More research is needed to examine the long term effects of TNR practices (any study suggesting TNR's ineffectiveness will be denied by Ally Cat Allies; they will probably cite that a researcher in the study is not credible because they have a bad haircut), as it is with little doubt that they do result in significant predation, and this would only be acceptable if the alternative did not result in any difference of these numbers.
Birds, wildlife = free pet food/toys for outdoor cat owners
Cat lovers in denial
Becky Robinson of Alley Cat Allies has released this article entitled 'How Important is the Cat vs. Bird Debate When Millions of Cats Are Dying in Shelters?'. Really? This title essentially reads, "who cares about birds and wildlife dying when cats are dying?" A wonderful and sad example of the entitlement complex that many cat owners possess. Ally cat allies calls this study "junk science" because it involved individuals who used common sense to actually see that excessive cat predation is destructive.
Free-Roaming Pet Cats
If I had my way, this would be considered to be a crime and a case of pet neglect.
While the practice of releasing owned pets into the environment may have reasonably stemmed from owners of farmland to protect barns and crops from the consumption habits of the small rodent population, people did not evolve, mentally, to consider that doing the same thing in an urban or suburban environment is not only dangerous for their pets, but it serves no purpose other then for bored pets to entertain themselves by killing wild animals while sporting full stomachs.
Unlike the feral cats, that are at least trying to survive, pet cats kill for 'fun' and will also often play with and torture the animals they capture. Even escaped prey will succumb to the germs in the teeth of the animals, and I have experienced this first hand.
I have heard bizarre and ridiculous excuse, after bizarre and ridiculous excuse that cat owners have given to justify this practice: “Cats are wildlife”, “it’s cruel to keep cats indoors”, “cats need to hunt”, and several variations. But the worst one is a blatant straw man: "habitat loss or some other human activity kills more animals".
Apparently, this means that any issue that accompanies another issue should be ignored. Exercising that logic, I can suggest that a person who is found guilty of poisoning outdoor cats should not be charged with anything because disease kills more cats.
In addition, cat owners when confronted with this common sense idea often become vitriolic and celebratory of the fact that their pets are killing and torturing animals. Amazingly, people of this mentality are often the first to proclaim that I am unethical for caring for non-domesticated animals.
Should Domesticated Cats be Banned?
Domestic felines are ravaging the highly specialized ecosystem of New Zealand, causing some people to actually call for a ban on the new ownership of the animals and for castration of currently owned pets. While the specialized endemic wildlife of that nation are of special concern, the birds, reptiles, and small mammals of the United States are also jeopardized.
Let’s review some of the situations of escaped exotic pet populations that received much attention within the last five years and compare the threat of the presence of these animals to that of the cat conflict.
Burmese pythons have been receiving a lot of attention lately due to their presence in the Florida Everglades. Many activists frequently cite this as an example of the threat that pet exotic animals pose.
While the populations of these serpents were ‘estimated’ to be around 100,000, thousands of snake hunters who were dispatched to kill as many of the animals as possible were able to round up 30 snakes over the course of weeks.
In addition, most of these snakes were genetically tested and shown to have likely originated from a single location—a snake breeding facility that was destroyed during Hurricane Andrew.
Cats are nearly established in the ecosystem, and many species are continually threatened or have gone extinct due to their presence. Cats, unlike pythons, adapt well to all climates.
Free-roaming pet cats also frequently annoy people who have gardens, bird feeders, and pets that may be affected by them. I have even seen a case on Judge Judy where a free-roaming cat clawed the eye out of a leashed dog, read as these cat owners justify bird-killing with statements such as: " I think that in about 99.9% of the USA cats run free" in defense of the defendant.
Cats are the most significant pet animal problem
Domesticated cats are a significant problem in every state, with a high dispersal rate that certainly no snake could ever hope to enjoy.
Domesticated feral cats, in their short life lifespan, are highly efficient predators, and obviously exceed the carrying capacity of the wild environment.
While I have no definitive evidence, I have seen the disappearance of rabbits in my area correlate with the arrival of a few cats.
At minimum, the practice of free-roaming owned, pet cats should be completely banned. There are not many situations that require bans, yet free ranging cats qualifies for its overtly ridiculous violations of all sensible pet owning standards.
In addition to the fact that wildlife does not need assistance from owned pets in decimating their numbers unnecessarily, it is common sense that owned animals should remain on their owner’s property or supervised off of it, just like the standards for domesticated dogs or any other pet.
It is rather preposterous that cat owners let their pets out, then complain of other people, coyotes, or poisons harming their pets.
Free-roaming pet cats are a far more significant public health issue than pets that are maintained on their owner’s property, including exotics.
Unfortunately, owners of free-roaming cats often have some of the most ridiculous, inexplicable, hateful attitudes toward the animals they are responsible for the deaths of.
I don't claim to know what feeds this mentality, but its prevalence will most likely hinder sensible reform toward this issue. Such is the way of the world.