Those subscribed to my Twitter account will note that yesterday I had a minor blow-up when I saw this article in Audubon Magazine when I got to the bit where Ted Williams claims that we give some respect to the animal rights’ group The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Basically, I had heard accusations in the past of affiliation between HSUS and known domestic terror groups such as SHAC and ALF. It has since been explained to me to my satisfaction that these accusations are not sufficiently supported by available evidence, and apologized – HSUS doesn’t appear to be connected to such groups. Oh, I still have issues with animal rights’ groups, but having views that I disagree with is not criminal, and I have no problem with HSUS where its activism is confined to fighting for animal welfare, such as with eliminating dog-fighting – in fact I support such actions.
Okay, with that said and done, Ted William’s Audubon article, Feline Fatalities is actually about quite an important issue.
With something like 150 million free-ranging house cats wreaking havoc on our wildlife, the last thing we need is Americans sustaining them in the wild.
The American Bird Conservancy previously estimated a lower number for feral cats, from 60 to 100 thousand, in addition to 77 to 90 thousand domestic cats. The Audubon article also cites a February 2009 study published in the journal Conservation Biology for the 150 million feral cats estimate, and estimates bird mortality to be in the order of hundreds of millions per year. (I cannot find such an article published in all of 2009 in CB though.)
Now, I know full well that cats can be excellent predators in the United States, from the example of my parents’ cat “Nicky,” who my parents do in fact leave to roam outside quite a bit. Nicky is known to catch (and kill/eat) a prodigious number of mice, as well as chipmunks and the occaisional rabbit. She has also caught birds (mostly young and inexperienced birds), but to our knowledge has never killed one. To our knowledge.However, I also know that for most parts of the US, there aren’t that many stray/feral cats. Not like in Cyprus. The most authoritative report on cats in Cyprus is by Peter M. Heise-Pavlov and Eleftherious Hadjisterkotis, titled “The Cat (Felis sylvestris catus L.) in the City of Lefkosia: Public Health Problems and Options for Management” (2nd Ed.). They estimate that in the largest cosmopolitan area of Cyprus (Nicosia, or Lefkosia to Cypriots), cat density is approximately 700-1000 cats/km2 or 3-4 cats/acre. That’s 3-4 times the density of cats at the University of Hawaii, according to the Audubon article.
And from personal experience, I note that cat populations are thriving in every town and small city in Cyprus. Roadkill is just as pervasive here as it is in the United States, but unlike the US, 99 out of a 100 carstrikes involves a cat.
Heise-Pavlov and Hadjisterkotis do not hazard much of a guess as to the impact of the Nicosia cat population on native wildlife, but note that other studies suggest that the resulting bird mortality is much higher than previously thought.
The authors also discuss the problems of hoarding (where people provide food, supporting a feral cat colony), as well as diseases that cat overcrowding can help spread.
They also devote a decent amount of discussion to the two popular management strategies, trap-neuter-release (TNR) and capture-and-euthanize (CE). This discussion is a thorough survey of views both for and against in the United States. Spending the most time on the argument coming from the American Bird Conservatory, describing the CE option as the more effective option.
So Cypriots generally recognize feral cats as a problem and that CE is the best option for management, but it seems like they’re hesitant to act, perhaps looking to the United States and the United Kingdom for leadership in some way.
- Heise-Pavlov,P. and Hadjistirkotis, E. (2007) The Domestic Cat in the city of Lefkosia. Ministry of the Interior, Republic of Cyprus