Thursday, October 01, 2009

Subsidized Predators

It’s estimated that there are 117 million to 150 million free-ranging cats in the United States. They’re the most abundant carnivore in North America today. Moreover, free-ranging domestic cats are considered subsidized predators. They eat cat food at home, and then hunt just for sport, a strategy that allows them to exist at densities far greater than carnivores achieve in nature.

According to Peter P. Marra, a research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo, pointed out that cats were the only domesticated animal permitted to roam. “Pigs have to stay in pens, chickens have to stay in pens,” he said. “Why are cats allowed to run around and do what their instincts tell them to do, which is rampage?”

Although regular stints outdoors are estimated to knock three or more years off a pet cat’s life, why do pet owners do it? In many cases, cat owners have no idea how to create an indoor paradise for their cats. Appropriate toys which bringing out their hunting instincts, cats trees which allow them to climb and in some cases access to a large window to watch the world go by can keep them satisfied at home.

But experts agree when it comes to the question of whether it’s O.K. to let your beloved Cleo, Zydeco or Cocoa wander at will and have their Hobbesian fun. The authorities on both sides of the alley emphatically say, No. There are enough full-time strays; don’t add in your chipper. It is not fair to the songbirds and other animals that domestic cats kill by the billions each year.

"People fool themselves into believing that by simply putting a bell on a cat they could prevent mortality to birds,” says Darin Schroeder, vice president for conservation advocacy at the American Bird Conservancy in Washington. People fool themselves into believing that by simply putting a bell on a cat they could prevent mortality to birds,” Schroeder said. “But a bell ringing means nothing to a bird.”

As it happens, many temperate-zone birds go through a dangerous time early in life, when they are too big for the nest but still poor at flying. The fledglings spend their time on the ground, hiding in bushes and waiting for their parents to come feed them. They’re incredibly vulnerable,” Dr. Marra said, “and in high-cat densities, the fledglings get nailed.”

Furthermore, while some experts believe that they cats should be taken off to the pound, others stand firm on a policy of catch, neuter and release.

What do you think? I want to know.

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