Hated and adored, reviled and worshipped, cats probably have the most interesting history out of all domesticated animals. Associated with humans nearly 4,000 years ago, cats have been honored as gods and later burned as spawns of demons.
In these modern times, there is little change that can be seen. On one end of the spectrum, cats are fed, cared for and loved as members of the family. And on the other, cats, especially feral cats (domesticated cats that turned wild), are being blamed for the dwindling down of the population of many endangered species.
But are feral cats really killing off birds? Or are they simply being made the scapegoat of the ecological damage that people are doing? Is having a feral cat sanctuary enough to solve the problem?
Before we delve into that gray territory, it is important to understand the feral cat problem first.
Is There A Feral Cat Problem?
Wildlife conservationists seem to think so. Linda Winter, the director of the Cats Indoors! Campaign of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) says that feral cats are killing endangered species.
Bird species that have evolved for thousands of years lay their eggs on beaches where feral cat colonies now thrive. These cats eat the eggs, kill the adults and attack the nestlings. The overwhelming concern that conservationists have is that we may lose the bird population this way.
The hunting prowess that is highly valued in cats is now the bane of many of these bird species. A domesticated cat is a born hunter and once it escapes the home and becomes feral, it does not lose its hunting ability. Instead, this very ability is heightened by desperation and scarce resources.
The Debate About Feral Cats
Domesticated cats that turn feral produce feral kittens. If these kittens are not removed from their mothers at three weeks old and placed around humans, they may never be able to reintegrate back into human society. They remain feral, unable to go back to the domesticated lives of their mothers. Moreover, even at three week’s old, taming wild feral cat kitten is difficult and not guaranteed of success.
There are only so many feral cat houses and sanctuaries around to house the millions of feral cats roaming the country. If reintegration becomes impossible, what other option is left?
Some people believe that the only other choice is an obvious one. If the entire feral cat population is rounded up, captured and killed, wouldn’t that solve the problem?
However, this is a simplistic approach to a very broad and complex problem. For one thing, the proximate cause of the diminishing bird population is not the increasing number of feral cat colonies but the actions of humans.
Who Is The Real Culprit?
Wildlife biologist Roger Tabor is quick to say that the clear leading animal that is putting the wildlife at serious risk is us. How? Through farming that leads to factors such as habitat loss, pesticides, pollution, and fragmentation that are contributory to the problem. In the city, transparent windows kill more birds than a colony of feral cats living in the alley. And in the seashore, more sea birds are getting killed because they got trapped in long line fishing nets.
Killing feral cats has a vacuuming effect. If you take away an entire population of feral cats living beachside, a new population moves in. Take that away again and another takes it place. It does not end. It does not end because people abandon their domesticated cats all the time and these domesticated cats later join feral cat colonies in order to survive, and the cycle begins again.
Solving The Feral Cat Problem
Clearly, the best solution to the problem is to capture, neuter and return: trap the cats, take them to the vet to be neutered or spayed, and then return them to their territory, making sure that they are fed and cared for. It is a compromise, no doubt. But all problems are solved if each side is willing to compromise.