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Outdoor Cats or Wildlife Conservation? Pick One

By Michele C. Hollow, editor of Pet News and Views

The Wildlife Society states that outdoor cats kill wildlife. Yes, that’s true. Cats are hunters. Even well fed cats have been known to hunt.

Several veterinarians and wildlife experts that I talk to have been telling me for a long time about the dangers feral cats have on wildlife. As a cat lover, I honestly didn’t want to hear it. But I decided to present their side in this post. Tomorrow there will be a follow up from Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends Animal Society.

“Allowing free-ranging pet and feral cats to roam outside, breed unchecked, kill native wildlife, and spread disease is a crime against nature,” says Michael Hutchins, executive director/CEO of The Wildlife Society (TWS), North America’s scientific organization for professionals in wildlife management and conservation.

In The Wildlife Professional, TWS’ magazine, are several articles about the negative impact outdoor cats have on wildlife, habitats, and human and animal health. Here are some of their findings:

1. By some estimates, outdoor cats in the U.S. kill more than one million birds every day on average. Some studies put the death toll as high as one billion birds per year. Other studies suggest that cats kill more than twice as many rodents, reptiles, and other small animals.

2. The number of free-roaming cats is on the rise, now between 117 and 157 million in the U.S. While cat numbers are rising, nearly one-third of the more than 800 species of birds in the U.S. are endangered, threatened, or in significant decline.

According to TWS, Trap Neuter Release (TNR) is not the answer. Most animal welfare organizations encourage TNR, where cats are trapped, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and returned to the colony. Proponents of TNR claim that this approach will eventually reduce the numbers of unclaimed outdoor cats (more on this in tomorrow’s post).

The Wildlife Society sees it differently. They believe that TNR colonies are dumping grounds for unwanted pets.

“I totally understand the passion that cats inspire,” says Lisa Moore, spokesperson for TWS. “They’re wonderful pets. So I understand why it’s so difficult for some people to endorse any form of removal of feral cats from the environment, especially if that removal involves euthanizing unadoptable cats.”

“I wish all those cats could be safely trapped, neutered, vaccinated, and placed in loving homes. However, it’s clear to me that that is not possible. After learning more about this issue from the scientists who wrote articles for The Wildlife Professional, I’ve also come to understand what devastating consequences cats can have on wildlife, habitat, and human and animal health. It therefore seems inhumane for both the cats and the wildlife to allow cats to live outdoors where they are free to prey on wildlife.”

“It also seems ironic that we spend many millions of dollars every year to protect wildlife, habitats, and at-risk species, and then turn around and allow cat colonies to exist in the open,” continues Moore. “This just doesn’t make sense to me, and it seems to violate the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”

“There is no perfect answer. But, in my view, the best answer is to encourage cat owners to keep their beloved pets safely indoors, to support legislation (such as leash laws for dogs) that requires pet owners to keep their cats indoors or to allow them outdoors only in enclosed catteries, and to phase out TNR cat colonies, which can become magnets for unwanted pet cats and which send the message that it’s OK to allow large congregations of cats to range freely outside and kill wildlife.”

Michele’s Note
I don’t think TNR sends a message that it’s OK to allow large congregations of cats to range freely outside and kill wildlife. When I see cat colonies my heart goes out to the cats who live outdoors. I think of my pampered cat who has a good life. I am a proponent of TNR. It is the only humane solution to a problem that was started by humans.

To be honest, I wasn’t going to post this viewpoint. However, I wanted to hear your thoughts on this topic. I hope you will read Wednesday’s post, which supports TNR. Thanks!

And on Another (Musical) Note
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25 comments to Outdoor Cats or Wildlife Conservation? Pick One

  • Lisa Moore

    Michele,
    Thank you for sharing these views with your readers. The best answer to a difficult issue like this is to encourage civil discourse and an exchange of different viewpoints, and you’ve done that fairly and honestly.
    All the best,
    Lisa Moore

  • Patrick M. Donovan

    This “study” of theirs is contradicted by many other studies. Figures don’t lie, liars figure. There are billions of birds in the US, millions die every day. For the Wildlife Conservation Society to assert their propaganda is just plain wrong! The basic issue is simple: “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” (Jeremy Bentham, philosopher and animal rights activist; 1748-1832.)

    In any event, who gives them the right to play god and decide who lives and dies?

  • Jill

    Being a caretaker of nine feral cats over the passed ten years this is something that has come up repeatedly and its not an easy thing to get around, if you publish a article saying how many birds feral cats kill then the cat haters immediately pounce on it and use it as evidence against all cats in existence and even Trap,Neuter,Return.

    Which in Turn, makes the cat lover and cat carers have to take the opposite side. Its very unfair of people to use this as a weapon against cats because I can give you a hundred excuses as to why my feral cats dont kill many birds and mice, apart from the fact that they are well fed and lazy.

    So in my opinion, its a very dodgy subject and very unlikely to bring the opposite sides together any time soon! In fact, there was an article about this very thing in our Cape Town newspaper not so long ago, and my other half immediately pounced on it as a lever to use against the feral cats.

    Thanks Michele…

  • LittleStar

    Unsubstantiated numbers of Avian deaths are not the correct way to address this situation. There are no divisions in numbers for deaths caused by pesticides (used by humans), dog killings (uncontrolled by humans), raccoon killings ( I’ve watched them do it),Air traffic (unreported deaths in high numbers,human error), Street traffic (especially by Semi-trucks which kill large numbers of all wildlife) and unfortunate deaths caused by flight pattern mishaps on reflective surfaces (also a Human error).
    We must also give credence to the historically recent occurrences of avian diseases, of which,the causal factors, and origination, are still undetermined.

    Cats(Felis catus)have roamed free in this Country since the days of the first Colonist who brought them to this land. If the roaming cat populations were the true causal effect of reduction in the varied avian species, we would have huge lists of extinct listings. This is, in fact, untrue, as we have far more variations, and numbers of birds, within this Country, than ever before.

    In my, over 35 years, of animal rescue I have observed Cat Colonies in an unrestricted environment,as well as, those restricted to fenced restraint and in that time frame of research, I have not observed any increase in bird destruction caused by feral cats, as opposed to the causal factors already stated.

    I speak from experience, within my own observance, and common sense, after all, I am not associated with a Multi-Million dollar Scientific,Hypothetical Study with no finite data to conclusively prove my point.

  • Wow, Little Star, thanks for the eye witness account. Tomorrow’s post will back up what you state. Thank you for commenting! Michele

  • Interesting piece, Michele. I’m not sure what danger feral cat colonies post to human beings – that has not been made clear. What diseases do cats carry that affect us?

    I do agree with Patrick as to why one group gets to make the decision as to what species dies. Whatever the cause of this overpopulation of feral cats, it is a fact that they need to sustain themselves as much as the birds do. Many outdoor cats were born outside and can not be domesticated – should we just kill them because otherwise, they need to survive on wildlife?

    Looking forward to additional posts on this topic!

  • Tammy

    The cats did not ask to be there. People put them there. We are responsible for them and we need to take care of them. P.U.R.R. WV is working diligently thru TNR to control the population of the cats in our area. We need many more feline rescue groups to do TNR and manage feral colonies. With proper management, feral colonies can and will live alongside wildlife. I vote for the cats because the cats need our help.

  • Erin Siders

    I have an “indoor” cat who likes to go outside for a couple hours every evening. And I realize, I have no idea what he does while outside. This article gave me something to think about..can’t wait for Part Two!

  • Carol Reins

    I have been feeding, sheltering, trapping and spay/neutering and released them to their same territory…nad many of these cats are so friendly and have collars on that they can be adopted at NO-KILL shelters. Killing colonies doesn’t work because another colony will replace them and most animal control units don’t bother to look for micro- chips or names and numbers on collars. The economic situation has made it worse for pet owners…let them go or have them euthanized at “humane socities’ where their ‘kill-count’ is high. As far as killing millions or billions of birds…I blame humans for the poisons they put out(even lawn companies put out warnings to keep chidren and pets off lawns that we want free of weeds),high wire voltage, planes(geese get caught in the engines)pollution and weed killers used by farmers…the list goes on…but to blame cats and fell the need to kill them is asinine.

  • Humans are destroying nature – fauna and flora – at an alarming rate. We are killing all animals and plants that don’t suit us. If it’s not a dog, a cat or a cow, it’s probably on its way to extinction. Will the cats make any difference in the bird population? Really? Little Star has an interesting point here. I would love to see some numbers before we decide on killing more cats.

  • Kristi

    TWS seems to have found their smoking gun: feral cats. The problem is they are wrong. Birds are dying for many, many reasons, not just feral cats. When TWS can offer up more proof and stop skewing the real data, then maybe I will have respect for them as an organization again.

  • Elsie A.

    I am a cat lover and also animal lover so I don’t want to see any birds killed as much as any cats killed. I do believe in TNR. There is no real TNR program where I live but I’ve been feeding, spay/neutering, vaccinating all the cats in my neighborhood for 7 years now. Just only a few times that they killed any birds (they are well fed and getting lazy). What I notice is that once the old cat died, there will always be new cat coming in the area. So just only kill them will not solve the problem. There used to be more than 10-20cats around my house but after I spay/neutered all of them, now the number is down to only 7 cats. So I can see that it is a better way to control the number of feral cats. And of course, I don’t think cat is the main reason for all wildlife disappearance, considering how much damage human’ve caused to our nature so far. Yes, human are the main reason that all wildlife is disappearing.

  • catherine ignatowski

    Thanks for the article Michele. They say that an outdoor cat cannot be trained to be “apart of the family,” I took in a feral cat and she was great, so they dont know everything. Even today, if I found one, I’d bring it in after having them vet checked.

  • Toby Franks

    TWS is dragging out that tired old “feral cats kill birds” argument again? Really? How many times do we have to de-bunk this? The biggest threat to bird populations is habitat destruction & pesticides.

    The only good thing about this article is: : Tomorrow there will be a follow up from Alley Cat Allies”

  • Thanks Toby, I hope you will read it! Michele

  • […] Outdoor Cats or Wildlife Conservation? Pick One […]

  • Mike

    I keep reading all of these comments about cats deserving as much protection as the native wildlife. I don’t quite see it that way. The fact is, cats are an introduced species, and as such, they do have an effect on the bird populations. But, it’s not just the feral cats, it’s also the cats that are allowed to roam freely outside by their owners. In Delaware it is illegal for a cat to be roaming free, yet rarely is anything ever done about it. On the off chance it is, the cat owners I know state how “it’s in a cats nature to run free!”.

    I don’t have a problem when I see the neighborhood Cooper’s Hawk grab a bird off of the feeder, because that is one native species preying on another one. I have my feeders set up so that the birds have all of the protection they need against a hawk, but every once in a while one gets taken. That’s just the way it goes, and when I find the carcass it is stripped of everything, and I do mean everything. The Coopers Hawks are only successful on about 5% of their strikes anyway, so it’s not as if they can decimate a population. But, I do have a problem when I’m lucky enough to actually see one of my neighbors 5 cats hanging out under my feeders. These cats are all well fed, yet they still kill the birds that visit my feeders.

    I guess this addresses LittleStars comments as well. Of course there are other things that contribute to the deaths of native songbird populations such habitat destruction and traffic (however “raccoon killings” isn’t relevant because, again, that is a native species preying on another species). Acknowledging those as problems does not dismiss the fact that cats are in fact extremely destructive to bird populations. I fight against pesticide use and habitat destruction as well. That doesn’t mean I will ignore the countless birds and other wildlife that I have seen the neighbors cats kill. I have personally witnessed them killing over 20 birds and 3 nests of baby rabbits. Those are the ones I have actually witnessed. Since those are just the times when I’ve happened to be looking out the window at the exact moment, or have heard and seen parents harassing the cats who are carting off their fledgling, I think it is safe to assume that far larger numbers have been killed by those 5 cats alone.

    While I can do something to help offset habitat destruction (providing nest boxes for specific birds, and providing food and water) There is very little I can do to stop the destruction caused by these free roaming cats without removing them from the environment.

    I would be curious to see LittleStars data about these new varied species, and increased numbers of birds that are present in the United States. While I agree there are larger populations of certain species of birds in the U.S., those are introduced species such as Starlings and European (house) Sparrows. These species thrive at the expense of our native species, which has made it all the more critical to combat any threat to our native songbird species.

  • I will always advocate for TNR , Its to myself the only humane way to help w / an awful problem in our society , Of course we want no bird, mouse or any wildlife to
    suffer or be endangered by the cats . With a surplus of disposable cats what are we to do? Often we cat lovers end up with one or two cats more than we intended.
    My young son asked me recently why none of our four cats could ever have kittens
    In a nice age appropriate way I explained because society has deemed it so , With
    far too many homeless and feral cats out there it would truly inhumane.
    Thanks Michele

  • Debi

    I will always advocate for TNR because it DOES work. The data supports itself and the vacuum effect does happen when removing cats from a specific area. This is based on my own experience. I look forward to Alley Cat Allies thoughts tomorrow. What most individuals fail to realize is the fact that YOUR tax dollars are paying to euthanize animals on a daily basis in shelter’s all across this country. From a shelter prespective as long as animals (Ferals) keep coming in the doors even more killing will continue and does. Another way shelter employees justify their position and get a pension down the road. I myself have bird feeders and fill them daily I’ve yet in the thirteen years at my present location have found any dead birds nor at my feral colony locations.
    As stated by Tammy the feral cats don’t ask to be there. This problem once again has been caused by humans as with many other issues on this planet.

  • it’s never either/or
    cats come from nafrica, they don’t belong in the artic
    but if humans are going to cause the problem & introduce the species where it shouldn’t be,
    humans have a responsibility to control that problem –
    humanely

    solutions include:
    – TNR
    – natural selection – generally starvation or prey
    – non-invasive sterilisation (injectable)

    marketing ?
    if not for cats the human race would probably have gone extinct
    (Remember the BlackDeath! – the number of rodents increased exponentially to the number of cats killed)

  • Toby Franks

    Ahh yes the other tired “cats are invasive” argument.. Yes, cats have been introduced to every continent (by humans) to control rodent populations. Anyone involved in agriculture will tell you a valuable this “invasive” species is.

  • Toby Franks

    There are a lot of problems with the “kill cats to protect birds” mentality. But bottom line is, removing cats doesn’t work. Love cats or hate cats, removing them from an area only creates a vacuum that gets filled by more cats. And the new cats coming in aren’t spayed, neutered, vaccinated, etc., so the cycle begins all over again. A colony of cats that is TNRed creates a disease-free, kitten-free buffer zone, and a healthy, stable population of cats that naturally decreases over time. And since it’s a gradually decrease you don’t get the vacuum effect.

    Cat-haters dont want the cats there. Guess what, we dont either! In the end, we both want the same thing. TNR is the only way to get there.

    Ive TNRed around 300 stray/feral/free-roaming cats over the years & have worked with dozens of colony caregivers. A well-managed feeding station deters bird hunting & dumpster diving. Hunting birds is a huge investment in time & energy. And the pay-off is a meager meal of moistly bones & feathers.

    Cats are very economical, especially feral cats that have been born outdoors. They manage their resources wisely; it’s a matter of survival for them. Dry cat food in a bowl will always be chosen over bird-hunting & dumpster-diving.

    Hunting rodents is much less of an investment, so even well-managed feral cats still hunt rodents. And their very presence keeps rodents away.

  • Appreciate the really incredible info.

  • Hello, Neat post. I am a total believer in TNR. It works and should be used everywhere there are stray cats.