SOUNDOFF: Saving feral cats hurts wildlife

ay seem trivial at this time of determined, premeditated human carnage to talk about preserving wildlife, but I am compelled to do so when I see the American Red Cross misguidedly honor an elderly couple for “heroism” because of their preoccupation with the care of feral cats in our community.

Spurred by research identifying the growing problem of free-roaming cats and their devastating impact on our wildlife, the American Bird Conservancy and National Audubon Society have been attempting to educate people for four years about this issue. We have been joined by the Humane Society, veterinary associations, and wildlife biologists in this cause. Whether well fed, neutered, or belled, cats decimate wildlife and spread disease.

There are 73 million pet cats in the U.S. and from 40 to 80 million feral (wild) cats. A University of Wisconsin study estimated that cats in Wisconsin kill between 80 and 217 million birds per year. Birds account for only 20 to 30 percent of the animals a cat on the loose will kill. Following habitat loss, cats are the second most common reason for avian extinction worldwide. Islands are especially susceptible. Hawaii has lost 50 percent of its native birds due to the combined impact of two non-native species, cats and mongooses. Extinction is forever. The music of their voices will never be heard again, ever, forever. Since 1970 there has been a 50 percent reduction in songbird (robins, wrens, swallows, goldfinches, etc.) populations in the U.S. The impact of free-roaming cats has amplified this terrible trend.

Maintaining feral cat colonies is harmful to the environment and cruel to the cats forced to live out short, brutal lives (average life span is 2 years) in them. These artificially maintained colonies act as magnets for dumping of unwanted pets. That’s why the U.S. Navy prohibits them on their bases. Trap, neuter and release programs such as WAIF employs, don’t work. According to wildlife biologist Dan Castillo they are, “A pipe dream that allows feral cats, neutered or not, to kill more wildlife.” Cats kill not just by teeth and claw but also by their toxic feces. Autopsies of dead sea otters in California have demonstrated that they were poisoned by a bacterium, Toxoplasma gondii, which is only found in cat feces. The feces are washed into the sea, absorbed by shellfish that are eaten by the otters. It is likely that other species are also impacted by cat feces.

Communities are beginning to recognize this problem. For example, on the islands of New Zealand and Bermuda you are fined if your cat is found on the loose. Tampa Bay, Fla., and Akron, Ohio, recently passed cat control laws. If you would like to learn how to help protect your local community from free roaming cats contact me at 678-5131 or go to the website: www.abcbirds.org. Thank-you.

Gary Piazzon is Whidbey Audubon Society’s conservation chair.

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