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The Hoist: Natural Born Killers

by dvx Wed Jan 30th, 2013 at 03:22:04 PM EST

[The Hoist: featuring an item or items from today's Newsroom]

They're cute. They're cuddly. And they're wiping out species left and right:

(source)


Cats Are Ruthless Killers. Should They Be Killed? | Culturing Science, Scientific American Blog Network

Every few months, the fact that domestic cats are ruthless killers hits the news. This past summer it was the Kitty Cam, memorably explained by webcomic The Oatmeal, which saw nearly one-third of cats kill 2 animals each week on average. In 2011 a study found that domestic cats were responsible for nearly half of predation on baby gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), a shy bird common in the mid-Atlantic and named for its cat-like call. And this morning, Nature Communications published a large analysis estimating how many animals are killed by cats annually in the US: 1.4-3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals each year (1).

Let me repeat: every year BILLIONS of birds and mammals are killed by free-ranging domestic house cats, Felis catus. And millions of reptiles and amphibians on top of that.

This is not a cue for you to pat Fluffy on the head and congratulate her for being such a “natural little killer.” These data are no joke. Domestic cats are on the IUCN’s list of the top 100 World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species for their ability to decimate prey populations. Those razor-sharp claws strike the hardest on islands, where animal populations are relatively confined. A 2011 review found that, on islands, cats are the primary cause for at least 14% of bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions and the principal threat to almost 8% of critically endangered animals (2).

The new data drive home the point that, even on large continents, cats can do serious damage. Easily more damage than collisions with buildings or wind turbines do to birds. And, the authors hope, it’s a fact that wildlife management groups will not be able to ignore.

Well, at least they're not focusing on wind turbines. But what should we do? Cats Are Ruthless Killers. Should They Be Killed? | Culturing Science, Scientific American Blog Network

And, meanwhile, all those neutered cats are still doing what they do best: catching and eating small animals.

So the obvious answer then is that, if we value biodiversity and wildlife and can manage to overcome our predilection for cute cat faces over cute bird faces, cat populations should be controlled through humane killing, just like many other invasive species.

But the funny thing is that no one suggests that. In compulsively researching this blog post, I read many papers showing that trap-neuter-release doesn’t work, or studies showing that, in computer models, euthanasia reduces cat populations more effectively than trap-neuter-release. But then in their concluding paragraphs, after providing evidence that current methods aren’t working, the action steps proposed by the authors are: (1) all pets should be neutered and (2) owners should be be better educated so they don’t abandon their cats.

Kitteh Jihad time?

Display:
Nah.

Windmills do it.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jan 30th, 2013 at 04:48:42 PM EST
I wonder about this. Have never seen a feral cat wandering around in the mountains or rural areas. In town, yes, but once you get outside of where there are houses and barns, not.

If that is how it really works, then the problem is actually that we have too many houses and barns, what a surprise.

by asdf on Wed Jan 30th, 2013 at 05:21:20 PM EST
"Feral" cats are not wildcats, but domestic (Felis catus). Though they may live off hunting, they remain close to humans and the shelter of buildings.

There are several feral cats around the hamlet where I live. They can be seen hunting in the fields, at less than a kilometre from their home base, which is somewhere in a barn or outhouse in the hamlet.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 04:09:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Right, that's what I'm saying. If the numbers are correct, the underlying issue is that there are too many people in the world supporting too many feral domestic cats. It's not like they are out in the remote woods catching birds or mice, they're in cities and populated rural areas.

Solution: Reduce the world's population to something like 100 million, roughly what it was before the industrial revolution.

Although, hmmm, even though there were fewer people, I suppose they were spread out across most of Europe reasonably evenly--no huge cities--so maybe the geographical distribution of cats was similar...

My argument is starting to collapse...

by asdf on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 10:17:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
rural habitat tends to be very distributed. In most regions you can rarely get more than a km or so from the nearest house. Which means the ecosystem is pretty well cat-saturated.

But this has been the case since... when? Couple of thousand years? So they are part of the ecosystem here. They presumably eliminated a certain number of species when they arrived, but it's too late now.

Hunters, on the other hand... they are complementary with cats, who eliminate the smaller wildlife : they eliminate the bigger stuff. You don't see all that much wildlife in rural France, for that reason. The overlap between the two predators mostly concerns rabbits. I've had this conversation with hunters :
Me : why do you guys shoot cats?
Hunter : Well it's because they eat baby rabbits you see.
Me : oh, so more rabbits is better?
Hunter : No, they're a terrible pest for farmers. But they're fun to shoot.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 10:28:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
1000 million should be possible with near western life styles.


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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 10:34:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, but getting from 6B or whatever to 1B would not be very much fun...
by asdf on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 01:34:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Better education, higher living standards, fewer children, more childless/childfree couples (or fewer "couples"). Fewer people.

Surely China is due to shed some population with the deficit of girls in the past few generations?


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sapere aude

by Number 6 on Fri Feb 1st, 2013 at 06:03:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
asdf:
Solution: Reduce the world's population to something like 100 million, roughly what it was before the industrial revolution.

From Livi-Bacci, History of world populations comes the following numbers (which are obviously estimates):

1900 - 1634 millions
1800 - 954 millions
1500 - 461 millions
1000 - 253 millions
0 - 252 millions
400 BC - 153 millions
10 000 BC - 6 millions

So 100 millions are not pre-industrial numbers, it is more neolithic numbers.

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by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 02:40:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm guessing those numbers for 1500 and before are probably a bit low, as they likely don't account for newer research (speculative, but convincing) on the size of pre-Colombian Native American populations.  
by Zwackus on Fri Feb 1st, 2013 at 09:11:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The book is printed in 1997, so yes.

Do you have any links to further reading on this newer research?

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by A swedish kind of death on Sun Feb 3rd, 2013 at 05:20:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
1491 is a well-written journalistic summary of a lot of it.  Being well-written and interesting, it has attracted flack from the pedantic and the interested parties, but it's utterly fascinating.  From what I gather, the "high-counter" positions in that book have become only better-supported since its publication.
by Zwackus on Sun Feb 3rd, 2013 at 07:17:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cats also kill mice, which spread disease and waste food.

Align culture with our nature.
by ormondotvos (ormond no spam lmi net no spam) on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 03:27:36 AM EST
Should cats be killed?

In France, where hunters are inexplicably in charge of species equilibrium and biodiversity, they are. A cat out hunting or simply going from A to B for reasons such as sex will be shot on sight by a passing hunter equipped with a gun.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 04:14:09 AM EST
Goodness.
Talk about cultural differences.


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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 06:18:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You've not seen Welsh rally drivers, who seem to aim for the domestic feline

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Feb 1st, 2013 at 02:11:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, over here that would never happen. Although there's a good chance that a cat could be caught in the crossfire of a random domestic violence situation, school invasion, or arrest attempt...

Example from today. Police attempt to serve arrest warrant on a lady, she pulls a gun on them and starts shooting, so they shoot back. She's dead and her two kids are now permanent mental cases.

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_22480597/denver-deputy-shot

by asdf on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 10:21:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cats are part of the natural ecosystem keeping rodents and wild bird numbers in check. In my locality I have never seen so many birds as there are now. I think bird numbers were reducing when the use of artificial fertilizers was at its peak, but ever since their use has declined, bird numbers have thrived.

By definition a cat can only catch a bird if it is injured, old, sick or not the brightest, so you can see cats as an integral part of natural selection. My local pheasants don't seem to have any difficulty keeping (my rather large) outdoor domestic cat at bay, so even predominantly ground birds seem to be able to survive his attentions.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 07:17:18 AM EST
I thought domestic cats were distributed from North Africa to the rest of the world by humans...
by asdf on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 10:33:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who are also part of the ecosystem!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 01:35:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who are also part of the ecosystem!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 01:35:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well that sure bears saying twice!!!

i have a simple solution... if we want to raise as many cats, we should raise more birds too.

 factory chickens don't count...


"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Feb 1st, 2013 at 03:16:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's anti-catist, but that's entirely fine, because cats are evil.
by Zwackus on Fri Feb 1st, 2013 at 09:13:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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