February 24, 2013

Are Cats Lovable House Pets or Non-Native, Exotic Species? ~ Laurel Purves

Most people see cats as a loveable household pet; some people however, see cats only as a non-native, exotic species that is decimating the environment.

The United States has a feral cat problem—some feline experts estimate that there are 70 million feral cats in the United States.

While cats do not seem very exotic, Felis Catus, or the house cat, was domesticated from the African Wild Cat; cats are not native to North America. Free-roaming cats are an invasive species.

According to Maryanne Mott in her 2004 National Geographic article, The US Faces a Growing Feral Cat Problem, there are approximately 70 million free-roaming cats in the United States. These cats colonize, reproduce, prey off of native bird and small mammal species and out-compete native predators.

In a lecture for a Forest and Wild Life Ecology class at the University of Wisconsin Madison, Stan Temple estimates that each cat kills 5.6 birds per year. That may not seem like a lot of birds—but it means that 7.8 million birds are killed each year in Wisconsin by free-roaming and feral cats, 392 million nationwide.

That’s a lot of birds.

Free cats also pose a threat to humans. According to Paul Barrows in his paper “Professional, ethical, and legal dilemmas of trap-neuter-release,” cats are known to carry many zoonotic diseases. A zoonotic disease is one that can be transferred from one species to another.

In this case, diseases are being passed from cats to humans. Some of these diseases are rabies, toxoplasmosis and cat scratch fever. Rabies is especially serious to humans—unless treated early, it will result in death.

Barrows also says that cats are the domestic animals most likely to carry rabies.

The free roaming cat problem must be addressed; the two most talked about methods of controlling the cat population are Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) and Trap-Euthanize (TE).

TE supporters want the cats out of the ecosystem—they do not believe that TNR is an effective way to reduce the cat population.

TNR groups, however, support releasing cats into controlled colonies after being sterilized; they present TNR as a humane alternative to the feral cat problem.

“TNR improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time.” ~ Alley Cat Allies

Several studies have shown this to be true.

Alley Cat Allies states that a study conducted by Julie Levy, David Gale and Leslie Gale ,found a 66 percent decrease in the TNR populations over an 11-year span. Another TNR study by Eugenia Natoli found that documented colony sizes decrease 16 to 32 percent over a 10-year period.

However, TNR does not immediately decrease cat colony sizes.

It’s a long process—these cats still hunt and they still spread disease to humans and other animals. For many people, it’s not a fast enough solution; cats are still decimating the bird populations.

The best way to keep the free roaming cat population under control is to keep your cat indoors.

 ~ From our friends at Living Green Magazine.


Laurel Purves is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is studying Life Sciences Communication and hopes to become a science writer after she graduates. Laurel also plays the mellophone in the University of Wisconsin Marching Band. Laurel is also a Summer 2012 editorial assistant intern at LivingGreenMag.com.



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Editor: Jennifer Townsend & Brianna Bemel


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