Tuesday, December 04, 2007

“Shoot the [Feral] Cat[s]”

Let me say right up front that I have no problem with pet cats (Felis domesticus) and the people who own and care for them; I was once a cat owner myself. But feral cats are another thing altogether. Feral cats are a scourge on the landscape. Feral cats are invasive animals (being listed by the World Conservation Union as one of the world’s 100 worst) that, through their predatory habits, do significant damage to native bird populations. Trap, neuter, and release (TNR) programs are not the answer. They are nothing more than a public relations sham. They merely allow individual, free-ranging cats to live out the remainder of their normal lifespan. Meanwhile, the cats will continue to kill native birds and other animals, even if well-fed. The solution to the problem of roaming and unwanted stray cats is euthanasia. Properly administered, euthanasia is completely humane. It’s more humane, in fact, than the slow and painful deaths inflicted on their prey by feral cats.

Bruce Barcott, a contributing editor at Outside magazine, wrote an excellent essay in the December 2, 2007 issue of the New York Times Magazine that examines in detail both sides of the feral cat issue. A copy of this article is available in full at David Quintana’s Lost in the Ozone blog (see Kill the Cat that Kills the Bird).

Much of the article focuses on Jim Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society and “the most notorious cat killer in America,” and the nationwide controversy he caused when he shot a feral cat that was preying on Piping Plovers (an endangered species) near Galveston Island. An excerpt:
Much of the controversy focuses on the nation’s population of 50 to 90 million feral cats (exact figures are impossible to ascertain), former pets and their offspring that live independent of humans. Feral cats may not have owners, but they do have lobbyists. Alley Cat Allies, a national organization founded by an ex-social worker named Becky Robinson, harnesses a fierce coalition of celebrities, cat experts and feral-cat-colony caretakers to fight for the rights of wild cats. Her allies include Roger Tabor, a leading British naturalist; Jeffrey Masson, the outspoken author of “The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats” and “When Elephants Weep”; and, fittingly, Tippi Hedren, the actress best known for starring in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock thriller, “The Birds.” Which, as you will recall, was a film in which Hedren spent two hours dodging attacks by murderous birds.
Both sides weighed in on Stevenson’s shooting. Cat advocates called him cruel and criminal. The blog Cat Defender (“Exposing the Crimes of Bird Lovers”) labeled him the Evil Galveston Bird Lover. The president of the Houston Audubon Society condemned Stevenson’s “illegal methods of controlling these animals,” but other bird-watchers hailed his actions. One Texas birder, a fourth-grade science teacher, suggested that Stevenson be given a medal for his actions.
I wouldn't go quite so far as to praise Jim Stevenson for his actions, but I do find them to be far more ethical, humane, and ecologically sound than those of the feral-cat lovers. Feral cats need to be removed from the wild in a humane manner, and by "removed" I don't mean live-trapped and relocated elsewhere.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Borealis said...

Thank you for this. I think Jim Stevenson did what many of us who care for wildlife wish we had the courage to do. I see this like an act of civil disobedience: A willingness to really put himself on the line in the defense of his beliefs. This could follow him for the rest of his life, for better or worse.

December 05, 2007 11:20 AM  
Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Completely off topic: Good to see you posting again. You've been missed.

December 05, 2007 2:07 PM  
Anonymous oljb said...

I do wonder if shooting cats will solve anything. There is an enormous population of feral cats; they reproduce quickly and it doesn't take them long raise their numbers to the maximum that the ecosystem will support. In essence, every cat that is shot will be replaced by a kitten that would otherwise die off as surplus population. I can imagine there being some temporary success on a local level for these kinds of efforts, but there are millions of cats living in both forests and human-populated areas that will fill a local population vacuum in a short time span.

So then the question becomes whether it's appropriate to kill individual cats when the motivation for killing them (reducing bird deaths) won't even succeed. I'm inclined to think that large cat populations are a permanent problem that can't be addresses in any effective ways, unfortunately. Similar to kudzu or other invasive plant species, they are better adapted to the landscape than the species that preceded them.

December 05, 2007 4:55 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

I couldn't agree more with your post. I am both a birder and a cat lover, and I know that the best thing to be done about feral cats is to euthanize them. This is what animal shelters do when they take in feral cats from pet hoarders (pet owners who cannot stop themselves from acquiring more pets, leading to inhumane conditions for their multiple animals). Often, some of the cats in a pet hoard will revert to a feral state, and cannot be adopted as pets. These animals are rightly put to sleep.

My family has three cats, and they never go outside. Pet cats should not go outdoors unless it is in a completely fenced in yard with no opportunity for hunting.

December 06, 2007 1:57 PM  
Anonymous Birding In Maine said...

John;

I feel the same as you do! Euthanasia is the way to go with feral cats.

Think of the number of bird species, endangered or not, that would make a comeback with this one problem taken care of.

December 10, 2007 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Borealis said...

I have to disagree with oljb. It certainly would not be easy, but with a coordinated effort and support from courageous political leaders, the feral cat population can be reduced significantly.

Saying that cats are "better adapted to the landscape" than native species sounds like a surrender cry to me. Apparently Barred Owls are "better adapted" and may ultimately replace the Northern Spotted Owl in part of its range. I'm not just going to throw up my hands and say, "Go ahead and clear cut the rest of our forests, because there's no point in resisting."

My brother and his family saw a string of cats disappear over a period of ten years or so. They live in a rural part of their community near a two-lane highway. What happened to the cats? Coyotes, cars, and poisons likely happened to them. Maybe one or two decided they liked the freedom more than comfort and just didn't come home, adding to the feral population. That population may never be eradicated, but something needs to be done, and on a large scale.

December 17, 2007 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Bret Ludwig said...

I can say from experience that shooting ferals works-if done consistently and persistently.

Ferals exist in a netherworld of neither truly wild nor domestic existence, they depend on garbage or cat lubbers, both of which are human in origin. Felis Domesticus does not have a wild niche in North America at present or we would have actual wild small cats. The bobcat is the smallest "niche" for sizes of feline here.

Burn the trash and deter or stay under the radar of the cat lubbers, and shoot, shovel and shut up.

I've found that shooting cats is humane if you use enough gun and organize the shoot properly. Rimfire cartridges are not adequate. Either .223 class centerfires or pistol class ballistics cartridges at least 30 caliber are needed. By far and away the 7.62x39 is the cheapest round.

I've used .32 ACP in subcaliber adapters in .30 caliber rifles at very close range with success as well as pistols.

Bury the cat carcasses deep and use quicklime if possible. I wouldn't put it past cat lubbers to demand the DA dig up a pile after a good slay and apply ballistic forensics to bust the horrible cat killer, so appropriate precautions may be in order. Your biggest source of trouble is going to be your own mouth, though (silence is golden) or a "friend" who rolls over on you. I'd lonewolf it unless a feral slay is 100% kosher in your state.

March 27, 2008 8:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see this as a solution. I would say it depends on if you are a bird lover,or a cat lover. And,whether or not you use feral cats for target shooting. Must be a veteran with PTSD.

September 15, 2008 10:46 PM  
Blogger Bird Advocate said...

"Anonymous said...

I don't see this as a solution. I would say it depends on if you are a bird lover,or a cat lover. And,whether or not you use feral cats for target shooting. Must be a veteran with PTSD."

I am a veteran with PTSD as well as being for the humane treatment of all animals, and you seem to be in need of education. When you, or any other enabler of feral cats can explain to me how it is humane to perpetuate the abandonment of domestic animals so they can slaughter our native wildlife I will take up knitting.

April 07, 2009 2:35 AM  

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