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Cats - what are your opinions?

Grant RW Humphries, January 30, 2013

Cats have been in the media lately to an extent that hasn't really been seen in recent times: NYTimes, BBC, Gareth Morgan - Cats to go, Stuff

I don't believe most people reading this post are under any illusions about cats and the effects they have on wildlife populations. We know they are killing millions (and apparently billions) of native wildilfe (e.g., birds)

As a cat owner myself, I've often pondered over this question: Will I "replace" my cat when he dies? (I use "replace" loosely because we all know that you can't replace a family member).

I have not had cats in my life too often because my family have always been "dog people" (let's not debate on dog vs cat people here ;) ). Roxas, my ginger tabby, is 2 years old, and is an indoor cat. He is loveable, playful, and by all visual cues, seems to be very content being an indoor cat. The last time he "escaped" in fact, he returned no more than an hour later, and cuddled up next to me on my bed, purring and happy. In short - Yes, I would likely get a new cat when Roxas is gone, but would maintain the responsibility of keeping the cat inside and happy. I've even gone so far as to build a "cat run" - a large, caged in area outside my house that is attached via a tunnel to the bathroom window, which is always open. This way Roxas can go outside any time he wants, without killing native birds.

Anyways - my questions to seabird people are:

1) Do you support limiting cats (feral and pets)?

2) Do you know of any studies where cats have played a huge role in decimating populations of seabirds anywhere in the world? If so, would you be willing to share that story here?

Cheers! Grant

Comments ( 7 )

Sjurdur Hammer

Sjurdur Hammer

I have a strong feeling that cat control/eradications are an important part of seabird conservation globally.

To answer your questions

1.Yes - I strongly agree. I think one way of doing this would be to get mandatory chip labelling of cats. This would be a good first step at least, because it would relatively uninvasive on the part of cat owners. This should in theory increase the owners' sense of responsibility, and it will be easier to identify potential rogues (I think some study showed that only 30% of domestic cats actually kill wildlife?). This is the approach we're currently working on in the Faroes, and I'd love to hear if there are other places that have implemented mandatory chip registration of cats? We still have a few islands where cats are not allowed (despite people living on them), and we have some islands where they struggle to manage the number of cats.

As a priority for wildlife protection, I think it should be reasonable to prioritise and to make cat ownership rules accordingly, so that in some areas there would be a complete ban of cats, in other areas/islands there could be allowed cats as long as they remained indoors etc.

2.There's countless examples. I would assume that most stories of cats decimating whole populations would be primarily relating to feral cats. On Ascension island, each feral cats were on average killing 33 terns per day. I've attached two references.

Ascension island is one:

BONNAUD, E., BERGER, G., BOURGEOIS, K., LEGRAND, J., & VIDAL, E. (2012). Predation by cats could lead to the extinction of the Mediterranean endemic Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan at a major breeding site. Ibis, no–no. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2012.01228.x

Hughes, B. J., Martin, G. R., & Reynolds, S. J. (2008). Cats and seabirds: effects of feral Domestic Cat Felis silvestris catus eradication on the population of Sooty Terns Onychoprion fuscata on Ascension Island, South Atlantic. Ibis, 150, 122–131. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2008.00838.x

Hannah Madden

Hannah Madden

Here on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius we are currently conducting a project to assess the risk of predation by cats/rats on Red-billed tropicbirds. On nearby Saba it is believed that feral cats are responsible for killing up to 100% of tropicbird chicks. Although our tropicbirds seem to have a higher nesting success, I am personally in favour of limiting pet cats and eradicating feral cats completely.

Michael Force

In response to Grant's post, I fully support control of feral cats, anywhere, and eradication of feral cats on insular seabird colonies an extremely high priority.

At one time I had an indoor cat and he had been ever since he came home from the shelter when only about 6 weeks old. Woodstock was likely the best pet cat I've ever had. My experience mirror's Grant's: he was affectionate and sociable, unobtrusively seeking out human company whenever we were home, quietly sitting or sleeping nearby whether in my office or in the den. He got out a couple of times, but only wandered a few metres just to roll around in the gravel on the driveway. I have difficulty with those who claim keeping a cat indoors is cruel. I no longer keep a cat however.

regards, Michael

Barbara Wienecke

The question about cats arises quite regularly and deserves some attention. There are a few issues. Feral cats, especially on seabird islands, need to be eradicated. The Australian Federal and Tasmanian State governments spent a lot of money to eradicate cats from Macquarie Island in the early 2000.More recently over 25 million dollars were spent to exterminate rabbits, rats and mice, too! Overgrazing by bunnies and damage to roots by the rodents devastated the vegetation and led to massive landslides killing flying seabirds and penguins galore...

In any area populated by humans we have to make sure that cat (and dog!) owners are far more responsible than they usually are. The Green Party in Tasmania has been trying for years to get our parliament to pass legislation on companion animals but so far they have been unsuccessful. The proposed legislation included not only mandatory micro-chipping and registration but also the need to sterlise pets. All these are necessary. I would even go further and disallow purchase of pets through pet stores... Animal shelters are full of cats who were "cute presents" and suddenly no longer wanted.

Furthermore dogs are often confined to backyards but cats are allowed to roam free. My feline tribe (and for as long as I can look after cats I shall never be without them) has a large outdoor enclosure, as well as access to the house. In over 80 cat years they killed two young sparrows who managed to come into the enclosure (with further improvements that is now no longer possible).

I agree with Michael. People who believe limiting the range of cats is a cruel thing to do are mistaken. Cats are extraordinarily adaptable. I inherited two cats who used to live on a farm and roamed freely. They were 3 and 4 years old when they moved in with us and not once did they scratch the door to be let out. They play with the other cats and I like to engage with them and keep them entertained when I am at home.

Cheers, Barbara

Sjurdur Hammer

Sjurdur Hammer

This is a question regarding something Barbara mentioned already. Do you know of any country or region that has so far made it mandatory to chip and register cats?

We (ornithologist union) are working constructively with the animal welfare organisation towards making this happen in the Faroes. Although I realise this work is on a tiny scale compared to many other regions, but we think that it could make an important difference in encouraging more responsible cat-ownership, and would also improve the chances of feral cat eradications to be successful.

I would really appreciate to hear from similar work in other countries or regions.

Edward Abraham

Edward Abraham

There is an interesting paper about the effect of eradicating cats on Cook's petrel by Matt Rayner and others, based on work on Little Barrier Island in New Zealand. The short story is that cats eat rats, and eradicating cats may lead to more predation on birds, rather than less. If you are going to get rid of cats, you may need to get rid of rats first. It will depend on the relative predation rates of the two predators.

Quoting from the abstract:

We show, in accordance with mesopredator release theory and counter to conservation goals for a New Zealand island reserve, that initial eradication of cats on Little Barrier Island led to reduced breeding success of Cook's petrels, which also are vulnerable to predation by a mesopredator, the Pacific rat.