Friday, July 31, 2015

New Plans for New Poisons

 by Adam Jablonski

Australia's long crusade against feral cats is continuing, and while the country is currently reviewing its official feral cat management practices, it is unfortunately not prioritizing any new humane solutions. In a recent Action Alert, we brought to your attention that the government is no longer calling for full eradication of feral cats from the continent, but it is not because they've changed their opinions about cats. They've simply lowered the bar to killing as many as possible.

This tempering of language only disguises the fact that Australia is still on the wrong path when it comes to managing feral cats. Pursuing this "eradication-lite" strategy ignores the lessons still being learned on Marion Island, where the elimination of cats (which took "only" 19 years to achieve) has led to an explosion in the population of mice, which just so happen to prey on some of the same sea birds the South African government sought to protect from feral cats.[1] With the cats gone, the mice are now literally ruling the roost.

A recent study on Tasmania, the island state off the Southern coast of Australia, should also have given mainland officials pause, as it showed regular trapping and shooting of feral cats over a thirteen-month period actually led to an increase in the overall colony populations between 75 and 211 percent.[2] The study's author told Australian media recently, "In the areas that I had tried to reduce cat numbers, I recorded an increase in cat numbers. I actually had more cats running around on those sites than beforehand."[3]

In line with this study, the new Draft Threat Abatement Plan[4] describes shooting as a not particularly effective nor efficient method of cat management; it is very labor intensive to send shooters out into the wild, and they must be highly skilled in order to hit their targets. So instead the plan is focusing on another lethal control method, creating and deploying poison baits that are hand-placed or dropped from airplanes or helicopters. The two poisons touted are Eradicat, which contains the well-known 1080 poison that has been used to kill foxes in Australia since the 1990s, and a newer, "improved" version called Curiosity.

The 1080 poison is an indiscriminate killer, and it also causes immense suffering before death. The Natural Resources Defense Council says, "[d]eath by Compound 1080 is excruciating and slow (it usually takes between 3 and 15 hours). Exposure can result in cardiac failure, progressive failure of the central nervous system, or respiratory arrest following sever prolonged convulsions."[5] Symptoms can include howling, hypersensitivity to light and sound, uncontrollable vomiting, urination and defecation.[6] But the Australian government claims 1080 poison is a safe solution in the Western part of the country; low levels of the 1080 toxin occur naturally in plants in this area, and so some animals have some built-in immunity. But these plants do not exist elsewhere in the country, and non-target animals are just as susceptible to the poison as the targeted cats. Thus Curiosity was born, using the same fresh meat bait as Eradicat, but laced with a different poison.

Curiosity's toxin works by blocking an animal's blood cells from releasing enough oxygen into the body. The government of New Zealand says it, "creates a lethal deficit of oxygen in cardiac muscle and the brain, Death in stoats and feral cats usually occurs within 2 hours after eating a lethal dose."[7] It is considered more humane than 1080 poison because it kills faster. Yet Curiosity has not been particularly successful in studies. Every cat observed in a study from summer 2012[8] survived, and nearly half of the cats observed in a summer 2013[9] study survived. In both trials researchers concluded poisons were in the right place among the cats, but for some unknown reason were not consumed.

Both poisons are held up as relatively cheap ways to go after many cats over large areas, but therein lies a major problem. Other animals live in these targeted areas, including the threatened and endangered species the government seeks to protect. The risk of unintended poisoning is significant, both directly by animals eating baits and indirectly by consuming a dead, poisoned animal.

In fact, concerns about 1080 poison and others led former President Nixon to ban their use on federal lands here in 1972. This is because 1080 poison is toxic to anything that breathes, from mammals like cats (and humans), to vertebrates such as birds, and even insects. Limited use was allowed again beginning in 1982, primarily to protect commercial livestock from predators like coyotes.

Compound 1080 is frequently used in Australia and New Zealand (coincidentally the world's number one consumer of 1080) for the same purpose, protection of livestock from deadly "invasive" species. But this is an interesting twist, because sheep and cattle, which are produced in enormous numbers in both places, are not themselves native to either country. The real intent then becomes clear; poisoning of predators is not for the well-being of "native" animals, but for the fattening of ranchers' wallets.

Death by 1080 poison is inhumane, and the same should be said for Curiosity. The emphasis on lethal poisons exposes the hard truth that the Australian government is not really interested in broad-scale, non-lethal, humane management techniques at all. It has rated the relative humaneness of different killing techniques, shown in the accompanying graph.[10] To the government, shooting is the MOST humane way to kill feral cats, yet its new plan shifts resources to poisoning, which it rates as LESS humane. Of course, the only data point on this graph that is actually humane is where the X and Y axes meet, where no animal is killed by any method.




Friday, July 17, 2015

And Australia's "War on Cats" Marches On...

by Maggie Funkhouser

There's more talk in the news about Australia's plan to kill two million feral cats over the next five years in an attempt to protect wildlife; however, there's not much "new" news to report. The Australian government is still blaming cats for declining wildlife populations, with Gregory Andrews, the country's first threatened species commissioner, telling ABC Radio, “... the scientific evidence is crystal clear that they're the biggest threat.”

There's no doubt that wildlife populations are plummeting, but as the Earth enters its sixth mass extinction, scientists warn that the event has been greatly driven by human activity, such as land clearing, climate change, and pollution. Overdevelopment and overconsumption are the reasons for the planet's declining wildlife, not cats.

And if Australia hasn't learned anything from past eradication plans, killing does nothing to stop the breeding cycle and only creates a vacuum that attracts more cats. If catch-and-kill was effective at controlling cat populations, there wouldn't be any feral cats running around. A recent study conducted on Tasmania, the island state off the Southern coast of Australia, illustrates what happens when cats are removed from an area. Regular trapping and shooting of feral cats over a thirteen-month period actually led to an increase in the overall colony populations between 75 and 211 percent. At the end of the study, there were more cats running around than before they started killing.

What is "crystal clear" is Australia's continued pursuit to eradicate feral cats despite the evidence. If the government put half as much taxpayer money into Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs as it does developing poisoned bait and FeralCatScan apps (yes Australia has created an app for people to plug in locations of feral cat colonies so authorities can come out and kill the cats), the country would finally get control of its feral cat population and begin to see a reduction. Until then, we encourage our supporters to please speak up on behalf of the cats, by contacting the listed officials below. Let them know you strongly oppose their plan to use killing as a method of population management and that humane practices, like TNR, should be implemented instead.

Please contact:
The Honorable Greg Hunt, MP                                                                     
Minister for the Environment
Electoral Office
Shop 4, 184 Salmon Street
Hastings, VIC, 3915
Twitter: @GregHuntMP

Mr. Peter Wright, Director
Environmental Biosecurity Section
Department of the Environment
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601

The Honorable Kim Beazley, AC                                                                       
The Embassy of Australia
1601 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 797 3000
Fax: (202) 797 3168
Twitter: @AusAmbUSA

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hooray for No New Kittens (Yes, Really!)

Sorry little buddies, but the cage is your home 'til you're all big enough for surgery and adoption.
Those of us in the animal rescue and welfare community know that Spring and Summer are when most kittens are born. Shelters fill up quickly with new kittens who need homes, and are often pushed to the limit of how many cats they can care for. Alley Cat Rescue and our foster volunteers have taken in about 50 kittens this season, and one litter of four even being born at our shelter.

But for Spay Neuter Kingston Initiative (SNKI), which manages 50 colonies in Kingston, Ontario, this kitten season has almost been a relative vacation. They had no kittens born in their managed colonies and zero population growth for the first time since beginning a TNVR (Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return) program in 2009. The group was also able to spay or neuter more than 250 cats, preventing even more kittens from being born. This is concrete proof that Trap-Neuter-Return is an effective way to stop feral cat reproduction and address cat overpopulation. We congratulate them on their success!

It is a sad truth that most cats euthanized at shelters are ferals, and this includes countless kittens. Joanne Boudreau, TNVR coordinator for SNKI, wrote to us that, "We still have a major cat overpopulation problem in the area, cats and kittens are being dumped ... and we are constantly hearing [of] - and being contacted - by people who don't want to bring their cats/kittens down to the local humane society because they euthanize." 

Shelters often do not have the resources to bottle-feed very young kittens or house those not ready for surgery, which unfortunately is why they are euthanized. Spaying and neutering would help address the overpopulation problem, but Boudreau said that there are no low-cost spay/neuter services in the Kingston area.

Mom & eight kittens in ACR foster care.

Please donate today! Your contributions help ACR and our foster volunteers care for kittens like these until they're big enough for spay/neuter and adoption. (And mom will get spayed too. Eight is enough, dear!) 


We at Alley Cat Rescue don't see young age as an appropriate reason for euthanasia, which is why we do whatever is necessary to care for kittens until they are ready for sterilization and adoption. Our work, and that of SNKI, prove that TNR, in conjunction with low-cost spay/neuter, and plenty of volunteer and financial support, can put a stop to overpopulation. Please consider donating today so that we can continue to do right by feral cats and kittens during this busy time of year when the amount of work to be done is especially challenging. We are truly grateful for your support!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tips for Keeping Cats out of Gardens

Cats are our most beloved animal companions. However, for our neighbors with gardens, they can be unwanted visitors. Because cats don’t recognize boundaries between their own yard and a neighbor’s yard, they can roam into unwelcome territory. Here are a few ways to help keep certain outdoor areas cat-free. 
            Creating barriers to the area you wish to keep cat-free helps to make it hard for them to get in. Try installing wire gutter guards on top of your garden fence, as cats don’t like walking on wire and will deter them. Another method is to plant prickly vegetation, like holly bushes, around your garden boundaries. And another option is to place automatic water sprayers around your garden. They have motion-activated sprayers that will go off when a cat comes near it, harmlessly spraying the cat and scaring him off. After a few attempts and being sprayed, the cat should learn this area is off limits.
         If these preventative measures don’t manage to keep the cat out, try to make your garden unappealing to him. Cats don’t like citrus smells, so try putting some orange and lemon peels in your garden. Damp soil is also a turn off for cats; they prefer dry soil. Short twigs or plastic forks stuck vertically into the soil throughout the planted area and rocky/graveled soil will help keep cats out of gardens, because they won’t have access to bare soil. It is also recommended for those who care for free-roaming cats to create simple outdoor litter boxes, using play sand and scooping regularly; providing a dedicated litter box area for outdoors cats will help keep cats out of gardens. For more helpful tips in keeping cats out of gardens, please visit our website.