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My Recent Comments
I agree that this is a problem in need of a solution, and that interested parties need to familiarize themselves with the relevant research. However, the bulk of information provided by TNRrealitycheck and the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is plagued with errors, exaggerations, glaring omissions, and inexcusable bias—as is most of what passes for “research” on this issue. (It doesn’t help that several “sources” can actually be traced back to a handful of deeply flawed studies.)
This is especially true when it comes to the alleged impact of cats on wildlife. Inflated estimates are typically generated by overestimating both predation levels and the population of free-roaming cats (the error is exacerbated when the first figure is multiplied by the second). Something else often left out of the debate: predation—even at high levels—does not automatically lead to population declines. In fact, some studies (none of which are mentioned by the sources Halesworth recommends) have shown that birds killed by cats are significantly less healthy than those killed through non-predatory events (e.g., collisions with buildings). In other words, these birds probably weren’t going to live long enough to contribute to the overall population numbers.
Halesworth suggests that TNR is not working, but offers no evidence to support her claim. The two alternatives she presents, on the other hand, are known to fail.
Trap-and-kill has been tried for generations. Merritt Clifton of Animal People, an independent newspaper dedicated to animal protection issues, argues that such strategies have, in fact, had another—unintended and profoundly counterproductive—consequence as well: “Responding to the intensified mortality, felis catus now bears an average litter of four. Nearly seven centuries of killing cats doubled the fecundity of the species.” (http://www.animalpeoplenews.org/03/6/wherecatsBelong6.03.html)
Macquarie Island, located roughly halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, offers another valuable lesson. In 2000, cats were eradicated from this World Heritage Site in order to protect seabird populations. The resulting rebound in rabbit and rodent numbers, however, has had its own disastrous impact—requiring the Australian government to commit AU$24 million for an integrated rabbit, rat and mouse eradication program. Given the extent to which conservation efforts backfired on Macquarie Island—less than 50 square miles in size—one can only imagine the consequences and cost of a similar attempt in the continental U.S.
Her second suggestion—sanctuaries for feral cats—is at best disingenuous. As Halesworth surely knows, the sheer number of feral cats makes this “solution” impossible. (It’s interesting to note that ABC has proposed such a “solution” in the past as well.)
Simply put, Halesworth’s alternatives are not alternatives at all.
Frustrated by the pseudoscience and uninformed chatter surrounding this important issue, I launched my blog Vox Felina (http://www.voxfelina.com) earlier this year. Unlike the people behind TNRrealitycheck (and, apparently, the people at ABC), I review and analyze numerous scientific studies in detail, and present my findings in a rigorous, open manner—including lengthy quotes from a range of sources, and a list of all literature cited (in other words, I’m in favor of a level of transparency others seems to oppose).
As I’ve noted repeatedly on my blog, there are legitimate issues to be debated concerning free-roaming cats (e.g., regarding the efficacy, environmental impact, and morality of TNR). But attempts at an honest, productive debate are hampered—if not derailed entirely—by the bogus claims so often put forward by opponents of free-roaming cats/TNR.
I invite readers to review—and critique—my analysis and commentary. And, most important, to become part of this important debate, armed with a fuller understanding of the issues.
Peter J. Wolf
Nov 26, 2010