With a new report out from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the debate of bird versus cat continues. According to a statement from Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy for the American Bird Conservancy, “[all] across America, birds face a gauntlet of threats to their survival including pesticides, collisions, domestic cats, and habitat loss.” Schroeder says that the US continues to permit imported produce that has been treated with banned pesticides, and that the ever-changing skyline contributes to “hundreds of millions of birds [dying] each year by colliding with towers and buildings.” He also discusses unsustainable land use practices, such as the continued logging of old-growth forests as a contributing factor in the decline of bird populations. However, it always comes back to the cats. Schroeder says that cats take a “heavy toll” on wildlife when they are permitted outdoors, mentioning feral colonies that are “allowed to persist”.
Number one, two studies most often quoted are the Stanley Temple study and the Churcher/Lawton study. Some groups use these studies in misguided efforts to discredit work to humanely control feral cats. Over sixty studies have been done on different continents all showing three very important points:
• Primarily, cats are opportunistic feeders, and will utilize whatever food source is most prevalent, including supplemental feeding by humans, garbage and carrion (Berkeley, 2001; Winograd, 2003).
• Cats are rodent specialists. Of the cats that rely on hunting, the majority of their diet consists of mammals (Berkeley, 2001; Fitzgerald, 1988). The feline hunting style of wait and pounce is unsuitable for flying birds. Frequently, the flying birds consumed are injured or already dead (Berkeley, 2001).
• Cats may prey on a population without destroying it. If this weren't so, we would no longer have any mice around. Many international biologists agree with biologist C.J. Mead that “any bird populations on the continents that could not withstand these levels of predation from cats and other predators would have disappeared long ago...”
Number two, the combined efforts of rescue groups and individuals to trap-neuter-return (TNR) feral cats helps to manage the perceived problems associated with feral cat colonies. Removing colonies and total eradication methods are ineffective, plus highly costly. Where there are humans, there will be cats. Removing a colony of cats will only lead to a “vacuum effect” (Tabor, Roger. “The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat,” p. 183 (1983). The empty space created will allow for other cats to quickly move in and repopulate the area. And in some cases, eradication is counter-productive, and the removal of cats causes an explosion in the local rodent populations. (This simply creates another problem.) TNR cats are sterilized (and vaccinated); the reproductive cycle is stopped, a rabies buffer between wildlife and humans is created, and an established colony will keep out other cats by its presence.
Number three, more resources need to be put into low-cost spay/neuter programs to help individuals sterilize their pets and prevent unwanted litters in the first place. Prevention is a BIG part of the solution. We need to decriminalize the feeding of stray/feral cats, and provide public education programs to decrease the number of homeless cats. Working with cat organizations instead of against them is the key to solving the homeless pet population problem.
In 2003, an article published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association “evaluate[d] the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return program, with adoption whenever possible, on the dynamics of a free-roaming cat population.” The article states “at completion of the study in 2002, the population had decreased by 66%, from 68 to 23 cats.” With the following as their conclusion: “a comprehensive long-term program of neutering followed by adoption or return to the resident colony can result in reduction of free-roaming cat populations in urban areas.” (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2003;222:42–46) As more of these studies and observations are performed, TNR is becoming a more accepted method of controlling the feral cat population, and even cities, like Baltimore, MD, are adopting TNR as their preferred method of control.
In the end, ACR believes all animals, whether exotic, alien, introduced, non-native, or so-called pests, are sentient beings and should be given humane care and treatment. If a species needs controlled in order to preserve another, then all humane, non-lethal methods should be utilized. In this day and age, everyone should be trying to instill more compassionate ethics towards the earth and all of her inhabitants.