The Wildlife Society, The American Bird Association and other environmental groups like Audubon have for years supported the so-called “science” showing that cats are causing the end-of-days on the planet. Now their star player, Nico Dauphine, has been convicted of cruelty to animals, despite hiring Michael Vick’s attorney, which in itself is pretty ironic. Many people in Athens, Georgia “lost” cats while Dauphine lived there.
It is actually with a heavy heart that I write this. It is so sad that environmentalists, who should be promoting compassion towards animals, actually have set the stage for this hatred towards feral cats. This scapegoating of cats causes cruelty. People become desensitized to their suffering.
During the last forty years feline predation studies have been conducted across the world. From these studies, most researchers have concluded with British biologist Roger Tabor that: “In terms of the cats as threats to wildlife, generally for countries like Britain and America where other species have coexisted with the cat family for a long time, cats are no more harmful than other predators. Only in cases of small islands has the effect of cats, both feral and domestic, been harmful. In biological systems it is insufficient merely to have found one animal will eat another, that after all, is what predators do - but is that predation pressure within normal limits? Is the prime predator the cat?” Tabor suggests that “disturbances by man” should be considered as the major cause of losses in wildlife populations.
Some studies on feral cat populations in cities have found almost no prey animals in the cats. In one study of 43 cats only one rodent and one bird were found. Birds usually make up 4 to 6 percent of a cat’s diet, when a cat relies solely on finding his own food. Scientist Peter Neville who worked in England for two decades with feral colonies, says: “a deliberate strategy of scavenging has enabled many feral cats almost to give up hunting altogether. They may learn instead to lie around waste bins of hotels for fresh supplies or to cadge from well-meaning human providers in urban areas.” Cats are opportunistic feeders and hunters, living off the easiest source of available food.
The famous German biologist Paul Leyhausen who studied cats for decades found that the cat is a rodent specialist. Its sit-and-wait strategy is better suited to catching rodents, as cats will wait for hours for animals to come out of burrows. Birds fly in any direction and are more difficult to catch. Cats have a predilection for ambush as a hunting skill. They believe that any animal on the ground will stay there and are usually not prepared for birds who hop and fly away. Some cats do however become bird specialists, but most prey on mammals.
Even in Australia where there is an outright war against cats who are accused of decimating the native wildlife, the first comprehensive study concluded that domestic cats were not the threat they were alleged to be. The results showed that 41% of the animals caught by cats were introduced mammals such as mice, rats and rabbits, while only 2 percent were native mammals. Twenty percent of the cats caught introduced bird species, while only 7 percent caught native birds. Overall 56 percent of the cats surveyed hunted while 44 percent did not hunt at all.
Cat Predation On Islands
Cats have been given a bad reputation largely due to the so-called damage done by them on islands. Cats were left behind by whalers, and explorers. They were introduced along with mongooses to control burgeoning rodent populations. (Rodents had been transported accidentally in cargoes of food and equipment.) Islands are unique because they usually have no mammalian predators for birds to adjust to, and the birds therefore have few defense mechanisms against the imported cats, mongooses and rodents. However even on islands the ever-opportunistic cat will live on carrion and the introduced rodents. Feral cats in both urban and island environments are often hungry, which contradicts their image as wanton killers. In her landmark 1982 book Maverick Cats, author Ellen Perry Berkeley, reports that on San Nicolas Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, 22.5 percent of ferals showed mottled livers, a sign of inadequate diet.
Human Toll On Predators
Throughout history the persecution of predators has taken a tremendous toll on the earth’s animals and caused enormous ecological imbalance. People usually kill predators because they see them as competitors for food.
This war on predators has occurred all over the globe, along with the destruction of habitat and forests. This has caused our current situation today, where we may be threatening our very existence on the planet. All things on the earth need to die to replenish life. Bacteria and fungi are part of this pattern to kill and redistribute the earth’s resources. University of Chicago historian, William McNeill, said: “We’ll never escape the limits of the ecosystem. We are caught in the food chain, whether we like it or not, eating and being eaten.”
Scientist and researcher Christopher McBride spent years studying lions in Southern Africa. He believed from his field work studying lions, that they usually killed very young animals (easy to replace) or the old and sick. He believed that the killing of predators in National Parks, in the hopes of increasing the prey populations, had simply been a waste of time and probably been very harmful to the health of prey populations. The domestic and feral cat is an intelligent predator. The above can be applied to these cats as well as the bigger ones.
Cats As Scapegoats
An American wildlife biologist, famous for his studies on migratory birds, told me that U.S. biologists were “obsessively preoccupied with predation by cats and often overlooked other causes of wildlife depletion.”
An investigative journalist found that many U. S. biologists, using the much publicized studies by Stanley Temple and by Churcher and Lawton (where limited data were extrapolated across whole continents), were unaware that international studies conducted during the past forty years all clearly show the predominance of feline predation on mammals over birds. They were also unaware that many researchers agreed with the conclusion reached by New Zealanders Brian Coman and Hans Brunner: “The common belief that feral cats are serious predators of birds is apparently without basis. Although birds were common in all sampling areas, they were a relatively minor item in the diet.
The environmental think tank, WorldWatch Institute, cites deforestation due to razing of forests for croplands, pastures and real estate as one of the major factors contributing to the loss of all birds, including songbirds.
Although songbirds are in decline, other birds such as blackbirds and greenfinches, and blue jays and brown-headed cowbirds (both nestling-eating birds) are exploding. Year-round U. S. bird residents are stable or increasing in numbers. This should give us serious consideration. Tropical deforestation is occurring at the rate of 142,000 to 200,000 square kilometers each year, an area roughly the size of Florida. At this rate the tropical rainforests will disappear in just 30 years, and along with the forests, the songbirds. Each year millions of acres of tropical rainforests are burned to make way for agriculture. In Central America the primary motive for clear-cutting forests is for cattle ranching. Over 120 million pounds of beef are imported from Central America to the U. S. each year.
Today enormous areas of the globe carry huge herds of cattle. This has led to University of Georgia biologist David Wright Hamilton stating that: “an alien ecologist observing…earth might conclude that cattle are the dominant species in our biosphere.” Nearly one half of all the land area in the U. S. is devoted to livestock. We destroy 220 million acres of forests to raise cattle, yet biologists want to rid the U. S. of alien and introduced species including cats, but not cattle.
At this crucial time in human history when humans cause so much destruction to the earth and her animals, we need to remind ourselves of our species’ responsibility and consider our “double standards.” Over 100 years ago livestock ranchers captured wolves, killing them by pulling them apart with horses or by setting them alight with kerosene. This cruelty and slaughter continues to this very day as our tax dollars support the governments’ Animal Damage Control (ADC) program.
In 1990, ADC spent almost $30 million to kill nearly 5 million animals and birds. Then acting deputy administrator Bob Acord said: “Our objective is not to kill everything in sight. We serve agriculture. We want to see more meat, wool, sunflowers and catfish reach the market.” Yet even when predators kill relatively few farm animals, the predators are hunted down and killed indiscriminately by this government agency. The ADC killed 109 ravens blamed for killing 20 lambs and taking 50 hen eggs and 25 golf balls! In 1990 the ADC also killed over 76,000 coyotes, 5,100 foxes, 1,163 bobcats and over 4 million birds.
Plate glass windows on homes and office buildings take a tremendous toll on birds. The Journal of Field Ornithology estimates that up to 975 million birds die each year from striking windows in the U.S.
Urban sprawl, constructing shopping malls, roads and golf courses, all play a part in reducing habitat and have a negative impact on wildlife. We poison our air with exhaust fumes from over 120 million automobiles and we spray 4 billion pounds of pesticides into the atmosphere annually. This causes havoc with wildlife populations, especially birds.
There are hardly any areas in the world today where humans have not altered the landscape, and brought alien animals, insects, and exotic plants. So to try to return to the original pristine existence would be impossible. However, we need to have a better understanding of the world we inhabit and create a respectful relationship with the earth and all her inhabitants. We need to live more sensibly and simply, eating lower on the food chain to preserve the environment and stop the unnecessary destruction of the planet.
As compassionate people concerned with all the earth’s creatures, let us use nonlethal methods of control when animal “problems” occur, whether introduced, exotic or native species are affected. Cat populations need to be controlled, but let us not turn the cat into the scapegoat of the century, or we could be returning to the Dark Ages of persecution towards Felis catus.
This creature who captivated the Egyptians centuries ago, now the most popular companion animal in American homes, deserves our respect and compassion, whether owned or unowned, wild or so-called domesticated.
Especially in urban environments, cats represent one of the few remaining predators since humans have either killed off all native predators or caused their demise through urban expansion.
Even though some cats can become efficient hunters and do kill birds, many international biologists agree that only on small islands do cats possibly pose a severe threat to the wildlife populations. They 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…”
And so we offer an olive branch to environmental groups. Join with us to implement humane, nonlethal control of feral cat colonies. Stop promoting hatred and cruelty and the poisoning of cats. Have you ever seen an animal die after being poisoned? There is NOTHING humane about that. Besides which it is illegal.