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Saturday, December 27, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 7/6/2003

Stray cats, stupid thinking disturb wildlife balance

If you are a thoughtful, concerned conservationist or naturalist, or you just plain care about wildlife, you have to shake your head in wonderment and dismay given some news items in the last couple of weeks:

  • Item: Last Thursday, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommended euthanizing all 850 animals in a shipment of exotic pets from Africa because they have infected pet prairie dogs with monkeypox.

    Monkeypox, a relative of dreaded smallpox, in turn has infected at least 81 humans, mostly in the Midwest. It also is feared that the disease could be spread to wild prairie dogs, squirrels, rabbits, rats, and mice.

  • Item: Last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced it had to euthanize two black bears in northeast Pennsylvania after the bears had become threats to public safety.

    Both bears had to be killed because they had become acclimated to either improperly stored garbage and food waste, or improperly stored snack foods in campers' tents and coolers. On June 27 a 12-year-old boy was injured when swatted by one of the bears while it rooted for junk food in a tent.

  • Item: On June 23 the city of Akron reported that it had caught 1,685 feral or stray domestic cats and had euthanized 1,279 of them in a year because they were too sick, too wild to be tamed, or unclaimed.

    An animal rights organization, Citizens for Humane Animals Practices, has sued the city for its attempt at cat-control. Animal rightists claim that the cats should be trapped, neutered, and released because more stray cats simply will fill in any vacuums left by trapping and euthanizing.

    In Richmond, Ind., another animal rights outfit called HELP the Animals even wants to start a “managed” colony of 60 to 80 feral cats in a city park. Since when can cats be “managed” to do anything, unless they are confined?

  • Item: Also on June 23, the Toledo Zoo program to trap and euthanize stray and feral cats was made public. The zoo notes that the untended cats plague zoo property and endanger its exotic animal collections with diseases from the street, such as toxoplasmosis and feline leukemia.

    The Toledo Area Humane Society's response is the same as that of the animal rights faction in Akron: Trap, neuter, release.

    The foregoing items have some things in common, most notably human stupidity in all its incredibly diverse forms.

    The monkeypox-in-exotic-pets tale, which is just the tip of a very ugly iceberg involving exotic animal trade worldwide, stretches the imagination. Why does anyone want to keep a prairie dog in the first place? Why is it permissible to ship tree squirrels. rope squirrels, dormice, Gambian giant-pouched rats, brush-tailed porcupines, and striped mice from Ghana to Texas? Or anywhere?

    “It makes sense to me that if African [exotic pet] rodents can be [disease] carriers, then [wild] rodents in the U.S. can, too,” summed Dave Risley. He is executive administrator of wildlife management and research in the Ohio Division of Wildlife, and like so many wildlife managers is concerned about the array of problems involving escaped or feral pets on wild animal populations.

    Trained zoo curators and keepers labor mightily all their lives to care for and feed exotic animals, and do a credible job of it. But how can you expect the untrained man-in-the-street to know the nuances of diet and disease prevention of an exotic kept as a pet? You cannot. But still we entitle anyone to buy wild exotics and keep them as pets, at least until they become tiresome or bothersome.

    The Pennsylvania bears had to be killed because humans failed to properly store their share of America's sinfully abundant food-waste and other garbage. That created easy availability that acclimated the animals to free meals in local Dumpsters.

    Humans also leave aromatic junk foods in the open in tents, which is another draw for browsing bruins.

    Or, worst of all, some humans may have been feeding the bears outright so they could have their nightly “circus-bear” show in the backyard.

    Then it is the bear's fault when it does not know where the sweet-treat stops and the hand begins.

    Catching and moving the bears elsewhere only moves the problem.

    No wonder wildlife authorities agree that a fed bear is a dead bear.

    How dumb do we get?

    This is not new. Wildlife authorities for years have been preaching the mantra of good sense: Keep your camp clean and bear-proof your food supplies, don't-feed-the-bears (or other wildlife), etc. But humans not only seem to be dumb, but deaf as well.

    The save-the-strays cat thing may be the dumbest item of all. Trapping, neutering, and releasing stray and feral cats is beyond silly. From a wildlife standpoint it's criminal. Stray and feral cats - and even your own pet “Tabby” if it is left loose - are wildlife murderers.

    But the Toledo Area Humane Society and the self-righteous Citizens for Humane Animal Practices in Akron apparently only are concerned about cats. Not about the millions of songbirds, nestlings, rabbits, squirrels, and what-not slain annually by uncontrolled cats.

    In claiming seemingly moral, politically correct high ground, their disconnected thinking should be exposed from all sides for what it is - short-sighted and ill-considered.

    A 1997 study released in Wisconsin estimated that the United States at the time likely had more than 100 million domestic cats, including some 60 million pets and tens of millions more free-ranging, untended cats. Some 50 years of study on four continents showed that small mammals make up about 70 per cent of the stray cats' diet, with birds making up about 20 per cent.

    The best estimate from the Wisconsin study is that stray cats kill 39,000,000 birds a year - in Wisconsin alone. Nationwide the toll is more than a billion small mammals and hundreds of millions of birds. The researchers noted further that cats' desire to hunt and kill is not slackened by adequate food.

    So, for all the ink and emotion spilled over the welfare of stray cats, when are their champions going to consider the damage done by returning even a neutered stray to the street or side-road?

    Besides, even if a neutered stray is dumped back into the environment in healthy condition, how long will it be before it picks up and later transmits yet another disease? Bet me.

    If you truly want to help with the cat problem, check out Cats Indoors! It is a campaign for safer birds and cats by the American Bird Conservancy. See it at the ABC's Web site: www.abcbirds.org/cats. Read the passage on “plain talk about cats and birds” under “background information.”

    Bottom line here is that it is not the fault of cats that they hunt and kill. It is part of their package. But that does not mean that humans should be careless or thoughtless enough to allow strays and ferals to roam freely, to the great detriment of all manner of native wild creatures, furred and feathered.

    Stray and feral cats need to be trapped and euthanized - neutralized, not neutered.

    They are, as one canny writer of a recent letter to this newspaper's editor said, “an ecological holocaust.”



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