More ammunition for those who think the best pussy is a perished one

Will it be duck for dinner? Or cat?

Will it be duck for dinner? Or cat?

The Grumbles took scant notice of the fuss that has raged in recent weeks over moggies and their contribution to bird culling.

On one side of the battlefield was economist and businessman Gareth Morgan, who branded the cat a “friendly neighbourhood serial killer” and called on cat owners to make their current cat their last to protect New Zealand’s native birds and environment.

According to a report here, Morgan is supported by the likes of Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell. He agreed Kiwis need to “seriously consider whether you are going to replace your old cat”.

Hackwell is a cat owner and admitted felines were “wonderful companions”, but said when his moggy’s time was up, there would be no more meows in his house.

“I would rather have fantails and tuis,” he said.

On the other side, cats were defended by SPCA people such as SPCA Canterbury chief executive Barry Helem who said Morgan’s views were “a bit extreme”.

He advised pet owners to desex their cats to limit overpopulation but said some people believed felines were “more of a benefit than a threat” to native birdlife as they were an effective population-control measure for rodents.

We learned – good grief – that earnest moggy lovers down south have set up an outfit called the Canterbury Cats Protection League. Its president happens to be a Robin.

Yep. And this Robin (with the surname Thomson) acknowledged “cats are killers” but said they also offered companionship, love and comfort to their owners.

“Cats are very therapeutic and good for mental health,” she said.

Cats also can be tasty and nourishing, as Alf has learned by being bold while dining in Asia.

But Alf’s mission today is not to champion the taste delights of pussy pie, tomcat tamboulle or curried cat. He is drawing attention to an item he has spotted in the New York Times (here) which inclines him to take up Morgan’s side of the moggy debate.

For all the adorable images of cats that play the piano, flush the toilet, mew melodiously and find their way back home over hundreds of miles, scientists have identified a shocking new truth: cats are far deadlier than anyone realized.

In a report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.

The estimated kill rates are two to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, and position the domestic cat as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes.

The author of the report is a bloke by name of Peter Marra, from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. He said the mortality figures that emerge from the new model “are shockingly high.”

“When we ran the model, we didn’t know what to expect,” said Dr. Marra, who performed the analysis with a colleague, Scott R. Loss, and Tom Will of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “We were absolutely stunned by the results.” The study appeared Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

The New York Times described the findings as the first serious estimate of just how much wildlife is killed by America’s vast population of free-roaming domestic cats each year.

“We’ve been discussing this problem of cats and wildlife for years and years, and now we finally have some good science to start nailing down the numbers,” said George H. Fenwick, the president and chief executive of the American Bird Conservancy. “This is a great leap forward over the quality of research we had before.”

The New York Times reckons the new report is likely to fuel “the sometimes vitriolic debate” between environmentalists who see free-roaming domestic cats as an invasive species and animal welfare advocates who are appalled by the millions of unwanted cats (and dogs) euthanized in animal shelters each year.

But here’s the thing for those of us who are fond of our cats and have no urge to have them snuffed – at least not just yet:

All concur that pet cats should not be allowed to prowl around the neighborhood at will, any more than should a pet dog, horse or potbellied pig, and that cat owners who insist their felines “deserve” a bit of freedom are being irresponsible and ultimately not very cat friendly.

The New York Times tells of recent projects like Kitty Cams at the University of Georgia. In these, cameras have been attached to the collars of indoor-outdoor pet cats to track their activities.

They found cats not only have been filmed preying on cardinals, frogs and field mice… they have also been shown lapping up antifreeze and sewer sludge, dodging under moving cars and sparring violently with much bigger dogs.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into trying to educate people that they should not let their cats outside, that it’s bad for the cats and can shorten the cats’ lives,” said Danielle Bays, the manager of the community cat programs at the Washington Humane Society.

Fair to say, the new study estimates that free-roaming pets account for only about 29 percent of the birds and 11 percent of the mammals killed by domestic cats each year. The real problem arises over how to manage the 80 million or so stray or feral cats that commit the bulk of the wildlife slaughter.

But what’s to be done about it?

The Washington Humane Society and many other animal welfare organizations support the use of increasingly popular trap-neuter-return programs, in which unowned cats are caught, vaccinated, spayed and, if no home can be found for them, returned to the outdoor colony from which they came. Proponents see this approach as a humane alternative to large-scale euthanasia, and they insist that a colony of neutered cats can’t reproduce and thus will eventually disappear.

Conservationists say that, far from diminishing the population of unowned cats, trap and release programs may be making it worse, by encouraging people to abandon their pets to outdoor colonies that volunteers often keep lovingly fed.

It’s too complicated for Alf to resolve.

And it will soon be opening time, down at the club.

Let’s leave it for Gareth and his feline foes to sort out.

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