Felines harm environment

By on February 12, 2013

I’ve always been suspicious of cats. Their coy eyes and devious paw swipes make me feel as if there was something lurking under that cuddly fur. The surprising gifts of dead rodents or birds on my doorstep just do not seem innocent to me. After a study published by Nature Communications, it seems I am not alone with my suspicions. Researchers have found that cats have a devastating impact on native bird and rodent species, leading to numerous extinctions each year. Cats do more than entertain us in Internet memes and keep lonely ladies company; they wreak havoc on their local native ecosystems.

A ferocious feline eyes its next unsuspecting victim. Brendan O'Kane/Flickr.com

A ferocious feline eyes its next unsuspecting victim. Brendan O’Kane/Flickr.com

Initially, skepticism about cats was unsupported because only populations on islands were studied and that data had no bearing on mainland ecosystems. This most recent study, however, explored the feline populations in the United States and systematically examined mortality caused by cats. There were determined to be 84 million owned cats in America and an additional 80 million un-owned cats. These cats do more damage to wildlife than humans do—including all of our buildings, cars, and pollution. Free-ranging cats are responsible for the deaths of 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals annually.

Although most households are not complete without a feline pet, cats are an invasive species when in American nature. Once a part of the food chain, cats preyed on birds and mammals that were not designed to be on their menu. As cat populations in the U.S. continue to rise, so does the amount of wildlife that becomes food.

With this data, though, there is importance in distinction. It was found that free-ranging cats were the masterminds behind this criminal killing spree, not the average in-house tabby cat. Stray cats have been blamed for 33 extinctions of bird, mammal, and reptile species thus far.

If cats continue to plague natural ecosystems, the damage could terminate more species of wildlife and further alter the balance of ecosystems and natural diversity. Other countries have tried addressing this problem through extermination of the feline species, but in America, that is not a practical or possible solution. Trapping and sterilizing feral cats as well as sterilizing owned cats is a humane tactic favored by American animal control groups and has proved itself to be a viable solution to this issue.

Although wild, feral cats are the direct problem many were once domesticated. Reducing the reproductive ability of both populations will stifle the size and impact of stray cats in America. Forcing stray cats to compete for food and inhibiting their reproduction, means that fewer kittens would grow up wild and that their prey would maintain stable population sizes.

There are many efforts lead by the Humane Society of America and other animal control groups to sterilize domestic and wild cats. Cats—especially those who have not been sterilized—pose a great threat if released into the wild. Another key factor to reduce the number of stray cats concerns owner responsibility. There are many more sustainable and humane options than abandoning a pet. Shelters and adoption agencies are willing to foster cats, and there are programs that will sterilize domestic cats for free. It seems that providing incentives for owners to sterilize and keep their cats would be a powerful measure in combating species destruction at the paws of our feline friends.

Ethan Gissendaner
Staff Writer
ethang@uab.edu

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