Posts Tagged ‘Feral cat’

bones of the tabby.jpg

To die as a feral cat is to die so ignobly that your existence might as well have been nonexistence.

This feral cat fell to the motor car sometime earlier this summer. The maggots and carrion beetles made quick work of its flesh, and the sun pelting down upon the bones is bleaching them so white. All that remains of its tabby pelt is the hide on the face, which retains the striped markings of the generic wildcat in domestication.

We dream of cats now. The digital era has unleashed an epoch of cat worshiping not seen since the Egyptians. The urban and techy and prole youth are forced to forsake the noble dog for the ersatz carnivoran companion, and some do so willingly, because they like an animal with felid autonomy and wit, which a true dog person like me would never be able to appreciate.

But for every cat that is loved and coddled, at least one is out there trying to make a go of life as a wild animal. They are not so far removed from their Lybica wildcat ancestors to have lost their wild instincts and essence, and although we’ve certainly produced a few domestic strains that wouldn’t last five minutes in the wild, the vast majority of cats born into this world are still very much what their ancestors were.

And we can romanticize their wildness, their proclivities that allow such feral lives, but we cannot gloss over the fact that a domestic wildcat gone feral lives the life of a mesopredator. It is not the tiger of any urban jungle or farmstead. It is a predator that targets the small and the meek, for it is a small and meek predator.

Coyote jaws and speeding cars take out so many cats, as do the various communicable diseases that sweep through cat populations.

We love this animal, yet we allow so many of them to live such terror-filled and fleeting lives. We must surely be doing better by this species than we were several decades ago, but the vast throng of ferals living at the edges of our civilization are still with us.

And they will always be with us. So long as people let their queens roam and get bred in the great outdoors and so long as those same queens drop their kittens in the wild, never giving them a chance to become imprinted upon people, there will always be a supply to fill feral cat colonies.

And the cars and the coyotes and the feline leukemia and distemper will take out the excess.

And we’ll claim to love our cats and post beyond stupid memes about them online, and we’ll still cast a blind eye.

The crisis of cats is a big part of the pet overpopulation problem, such that it exists.  Yes, I would totally agree that our frame about pet overpopulation has been misguided and stupid for quite a long time. I generally support the goals of the No Kill movement, but I think that those goals can be applied only to dogs.

Dogs don’t readily breed out in the wild, and no place has the same tolerance for big populations of free-roaming or feral dogs as currently exists for feral cats.

It is always said that cats are more popular than dogs, but this statement is misleading, at least as it applies to Americans. More homes in the US have dogs than have cats, which is a better metric of which animal is actually more popular.  It’s just that there is a larger population of cats as a whole. If you like cats, you can keep scores of them, and no one will ever know. Dogs require some public display of their existence, and they are a lot more work than any cat.

So many cats are born feral and can never become socialized to humans, and the only hope for these cats is that they are part of one of those TNR programs. I remain hotly skeptical of TNR, simply because this problem is next to unsolvable, even with dedicated people trapping, vaccinating, and neutering thousands of ferals every year.

And I am leaving out the ecological aspect of what goes on with this most permissible and innocuous of mesopredator release.

This problem is usually trivialized with the wonderful fallacy of relative privation. Cats might kill billions of birds and small mammals, but cars and pollution and deforestation kill more.  True, of course, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that cats still kill all those animals, and if we had more rational and humane policies towards these animals we claim to love, we would not become so defensive.

And the cars, at least, do take out quite a few cats, as the bones of this poor customer reveal to anyone with a bit of curiosity.

But the cars pass its bleaching bones and rarely cast a glance in his direction. For these are the bones of another feral cat that died so ignobly that he might as well have never been born. And so he is forgotten and the wheels keep turning.

And each night the wheels keep turning and taking out the surplus in this Malthusian world of the feral feline.



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The Tribe of Lybica

black cat

The August rains are autumn rains for me. The midday sun may boil the air a bit, but once a torrent falls from the sky,  air is astringent and cool and gives me just a little taste of the coming short days of October, when the sun will cast at the steepest angles through the crimson leaves on the trees.

Though the land is still in verdant summer, I feel this coming coolness and revel in it a bit. Just a few days ago, I was standing out in a bit of post-downpour reveling when I spied a black cat moving softly along the far end of the lawn.

Before we moved here, the cats lived in a paradise, feeding and fighting as ferals do,  and having their kittens on the old outbuildings that abut this property. The constant wanderings of dogs in and out of the house have put an bit of a damper on the cats constantly wandering here.

But every once in a while, I see one moving along the edge of the property, perhaps searching old haunts and checking to see if a giant coyote with a black muzzle still lived at this address.

On this day, though, the rain fell good and hard, and then the stooping August sun peared out to cast a yellow glow upon the land. And the sun rays cast upon the cat’s black coat, and its nearly pantherine form seemed to glow ethereally.

The cat glanced back at me, and I recognized its slender head and gracile form as belonging to a queen and not a tom.  Perhaps, it was the same queen I’d seen nearly month ago, moseying  through the summer grass with four kittens in tow.  Two black ones like their mother and two wildcat tabby ones cavorted all around their mother, who moved with the solemn determination of something wild and untouchable.

Their lives, like all things trying to be wild, are fleeting and harsh Hazards abound. Just few days later, I saw the flattened form of a black kitten on the highway just down from the house. I cannot know whether it was one of the four I’d seen cross the lawn, but I suspect that it was.

I am not a cat person. You will never confuse me with one, but I cannot help marvel at what they are. Many species of small wild cat exist in the world, but only a single form of wildcat managed set up shop in agrarian society.

This wildcat, now known by the name Felis lybica,  found that staking out granaries and wheatfields for mice and hamsters  was a pretty good way to survive. The grain ensured hordes of rodents for the stalking, and man’s hatred for all things large and predatory kept away all the wildcat adversaries or at least kept them at bay.

And over time the cat came to be man’s little wheatfield leopard, stalking and killing and living and traveling over the whole world as the ultimate mesopredator.

This is the Tribe of Lybica, the clan of little predators that don’t cause us much concern, and whole lineages of cats have passed before them. The mighty Smilodon and the American lion have fallen from the land. and even the squalling cougar has passed on from its haunts, though a few claim to see them slipping about in the undergrowth.

The Tribe of Lybica lives at the edge of human civilization, but it also lives in a much vaunted status as a companion animal. The internet worships them in almost the same garish way as the Ancient Egyptians did.  They filled their walls with many images of cats, while we fill our “walls” with memes of “kitters” and “cattos.”

The Anthropocene is the age where the little monsters thrive and the big ones live mostly in forgotten and inaccessible redoubts.  You’ve never seen an Amur tiger stroll down an alley in Pittsburgh, but you’ve surely caught the glance of one of the local ferals flitting away behind a parked car.

So the black cats will thrive well in my neighborhood. The speeding car is their only main concern.  They will stand starkly against the winter cold and driving rain, and we will consider them very little.

But they will thrive, and in the spring, the queens will have their kittens, and a whole new generation of the Lybica will inherit the grounds.

And this cycle will repeat long after I’ve moved on.

As much as I will rail that cats need to be kept indoors and kept neutered, they will thrive so long as human kind thrives.

And when our species goes the way of the dinosaur, their lineage will be spread across the globe. It might be cut down in size once the bigger predators return, or they could evolve into the new tigers and cougars that prowl the world post-humanity.

So the Tribe of Lybica’s fate is linked to ours, but perhaps not as much as we might assume.

Their connection to us will always be tenuous and fleeting but also linked and tied. A remarkable paradox, to be sure.











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Manipulative meme

feral kitten no kill

It’s no secret. I love meme, but when I came across this one from Winograd’s No Kill Nation Facebook page, I tasted the acid come up in the back of my throat.

Everything wants to live, and this feral kitten actually is of an age when it might be tamed down.

But even with that simple observation, the meme is manipulative.

“You want to euthanize cut kittehs? You bastard!”

The thing is that feral kitten will grow up to be a feral cat, and if this is in one of those managed colonies, it will be trapped and desexed and released back into the wild. It will be fed cheap cat chow, which will subsidize its sport hunting proclivities.  Kind of like a Meow-cescu. (Don’t give me hell for that pun!)

in an urban area, it will be at best a reservoir for disease. In a rural area, it will be part of the great mesopredator guild expansion. This is the world were the little predators now live without much fear of the big ones. This is a part of ecology we are only just now starting to figure out. North America was not always filled with raccoons and foxes, and feral cats are only very recent arrivals. Our small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphbians didn’t evolve with so many little carnivores, and it is hard to see how they could be benefiting from this new ecological realty.

I am tempted to make my own meme, maybe a photo of little rabbit or robin, that says almost exactly the same thing that this Winograd one says.

You can only support TNR if you don’t understand the science behind the mesopredator plague that has swept much of North America and Europe over the past few centuries.

Once you realize what’s actually happening in this wolf and cougar depauperate land, you won’t be so cavalier about saving the kittehs or letting your own cat roam outside unsupervised.


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The problem with cats

cat with hakapik

I do realize that there are problems for someone like me writing about what feral and free-roaming cats do to an ecosystem.

I am not a cat person.

At least, I’m not a domestic cat person.

I have no problem with our native wild cats, be they Canada lynx or jaguars.

But if I start writing about the ecological effects of feral and free-roaming cat predation, I get called a cat hater.

Well, I don’t have a good defense for that. I really don’t like domestic cats.

There, I said it. I don’t like cats. (Maybe I like an emotionally shallow animal. I don’t know).

My reason for disliking cats isn’t why I have issues with free-roaming and feral cats.

There are two very good reasons for my problem with cats:

One is that they are an introduced species that breeds very rapidly.

And two is they are the epitome of what has been termed the mesopredator release hypothesis.

Mesopredators are small “B-list” predators that would normally have their numbers checked by larger predators in the ecosystems.

Of course, if domestic cats were native, their numbers would have been checked by native predators like cougars and wolves.

But now that both cougars and wolves are gone from most of their range, the cats can breed up in pretty large numbers.

Wolves and cougars don’t normally target small prey– why would a 150-pound cougar climb a tree to raid a robin nest? It would be a complete waste of energy for the amount of calories available.

But domestic cats will readily climb trees to raid bird nests.

Contrary to Farley Mowat’s book, wolves really don’t waste time hunting mice and voles, but cats hunt mice and voles for fun.

And what’s more, a recent study has revealed that cats kill billions of birds and small mammals in the United States every year.

That’s as much as 15 percent of the entire bird population in the country!

And feral cats, the animals we’re supposed to trap, neuter, and release, kill more native wildlife than domestic ones.

In the United States, we have as many as 164 million cats, and as many has 80 million of those are ferals, the vast majority of which cannot be tamed and serve no greater purpose other than to kill native wildlife and spread disease.

So what’s the solution?

Cats that are owned should be kept indoors or in enclosures outdoors. That sounds like a common sense solution, but of course, it’s attacked because you’re not allowing your cat “freedom,” which really means you are okay with your cat having the freedom to get FIV, hit by car, or killed by a coyote or fisher.

But fer feral cats, the solution isn’t even that pleasant.

it’s not nice at all.

Hannah Waters at the Culturing Science blog lays out the problem, which the authors of the aforementioned study tactfully avoid:

So the obvious answer then is that, if we value biodiversity and wildlife and can manage to overcome our predilection for cute cat faces over cute bird faces, cat populations should be controlled through humane killing, just like many other invasive species.

But the funny thing is that no one suggests that. In compulsively researching this blog post, I read many papers showing that trap-neuter-release doesn’t work, or studies showing that, in computer models, euthanasia reduces cat populations more effectively than trap-neuter-release. But then in their concluding paragraphs, after providing evidence that current methods aren’t working, the action steps proposed by the authors are: (1) all pets should be neutered and (2) owners should be be better educated so they don’t abandon their cats.

The thing about cats is they do readily breed on their own in the wild.

Considering how little cats are removed from the Libyca wildcat, they having been selectively bred for very long, and indeed, it’s likely for most of the history with us, they have been animals that lived in a sort of semi-domesticated status. Feral cat colonies, as they exist, are likely the source for most of the domestic cats we have in homes today, and these colonies likely existed for thousands of years in the Old World before most people ever thought of keeping them as pets.

But in the US, these colonies are all under 400 years old. No native mesopredator has ever been able to build up in such vast numbers as the domestic cat. I guarantee you that there are not 160 million raccoons or gray foxes in the United States, and though they certainly are taking their toll on native bird and small mammal species, there is no way native mesopredator release issues equal those of the domestic cat.

If this were any other species– say. a raccoon dog, which is a nasty introduced mesopredator in parts of Eastern, Central, and Northern Europe– people would be okay with killing them.

But as soon as you say that the only effective way to deal with the feral cat problem is humanely killing them, you might as well be the reincarnation of Hitler.

Indeed, there are some people, who even call themselves environmentalists, who contend that there are no invasive species and that we shouldn’t killed any animals for any reason.

That’s a recipe for mass extinction, because the only animals that are going to survive are those that have been able to live with human civilization. At its most extreme, we could wind up with a country in which the main predator in the ecosystem is the domestic cat, which feeds on house mice, English sparrows, European starlings, and pigeons.

That’s not what we need.

And that’s not a future we should look forward to.


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Of course, the coyotes don’t know if a cat is feral or owned.

All they know is cats are tasty and pretty easy to catch.

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The cat likely died from the shot.

Otherwise, the dog would be having real problems dealing with a wounded feline.

This is what you’d call “a good cat dog.”

Dachshunds can be very versatile hunting dogs, and if they are needed to control feral pests, they will do the job.

BTW, some of the comments call this action a “criminal offense.”

I hate to tell these people, but in most areas, you can shoot feral cats on your own property. My guess is it’s not illegal in Finland, where this was filmed. Or they wouldn’t have posted it.

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They got only one cat.

These animals do have feelings.

However, they don’t belong on this continent.

The native fauna is ill-prepared to deal with their depredations.

And the only way to save many species of native Australian wildlife is to create areas that are free of foxes and cats.

The only way to do that is to kill them.

They shouldn’t be tortured when they are killed. A single killing shot will do.



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(Source for image)

Yes. That creature in the cat’s jaws is a rabbit.

The Amami rabbit is a primitive rabbit that is found only Amami Ōshima and Tokunoshima, which are islands that are part of the Ryukyu Islands, which lie to the southwest of the main Japanese archipelago.

Only 2,000 of these rabbits remain, and they are under increasing threat from predation from dogs, cats, and mongoose that have been introduced to their islands. They were given protection in 1921. Before that protection was given, these rabbits were nearly wiped out through unsustainable hunting.

This rabbit is considered a “living fossil,” for it resembles the ancient rabbits that used to be found on the Asian mainland.

This particular image was taken by a motion-activated camera that was set up to catch an image of the rabbits, but instead, it caught this image of a feline predator and its endangered prey.

Feral cats are bad for wildlife. End of story.


As of 2008, the Amami rabbit was part of a cloning project.

The cats don’t care whether they are clones or not. They’ll kill them just the same.

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On Wednesday, researchers at the University of Nebraska released a study on how much damage feral cat colonies do to birds and small mammals. They placed a monetary value on the damages at $17 billion.

Yes. The authors point out that habitat destruction is far worse than feral cat predation, but cats have been implicated in the extinction of 33 species of bird worldwide.

And no, the authors are not in favor of TNR.

They come out strongly against TNR, if you read their recommendations, the authors point out that no scientific study has proven that TNR causes cat populations to drop. There are only marginal reductions, and no colony has disappeared. I should note that no one has made one disappear by shooting them, which is one of the author’s recommendations, but I can tell you that if people were shooting stray cats, those people who own cats wouldn’t be letting them roam at large, perhaps breeding in the wild and contributing to the feral cat mess.

You won’t have a feral cat mess if everyone who owns cats takes caring for them seriously and understands that their could be consequences for letting them roam at large. The unfortunate thing about cats is they have very little economic value. They are seen as disposable animals, which one can turn loose if one gets tired of it. That in itself is a tragedy, but it is even more of disaster when one realizes that cats can live fairly well without human care and can easily reproduce multiple times of the year without any assistance from man.

I have not seen a single study that shows the effectiveness of TNR, except that it provides some marginal reductions in cat colonies. And nearly ever cat in the colony must be liberated of its gonads before those reductions begin to appear. Spays and neuters cost money, as does vaccination. That is why the authors point out how ineffective this strategy is in terms of cost.

Unlike the much ballyhooed Best Friends study, which was easily debunked for its creative accounting practices, this one actually puts real world monetary value on the amount of damage feral cats cause  and does the same with the different control strategies.

The authors do suggest coming up with nonlethal ways of controlling cats, such as modifying habitat and using guard dogs.

But they do not advocate for TNR.

As someone who is very sympathetic to the No-Kill Movement,  I am deeply troubled by the feral cat aspect. I believe healthy companion animals should not be destroyed and every effort should be made to find homes for them.

Feral cats are not companion animals. They are an invasive species, and although they are not the primary cause of extinctions and population declines of birds and small mammals, they are still a major cause, one that would shouldn’t be ignoring. I honestly don’t know why they got mixed up in the No-Kill Movement. This is a wildlife management issue. It has very little to do with finding homes for pets that can be adopted. In fact, it is a major distraction from the issues surrounding No-Kill.

TNR just makes people feel good. It’s the only reason why it keeps coming up. It’s not fair to the wildlife, and it’s not fair to the cats, who very easily fall prey to predators, are killed in traffic, or freeze to death in the harsh winters. Never mind that cats themselves transmit diseases to each other, some of which cause horrific deaths that are far worse than any death a cat would experience from a shotgun blast.

TNR is simply a bad idea. It is not based upon science. It is based upon emotions, and if the No-Kill Movement wants to continue on, it needs to separate itself from such things. Feral cats should be euthanized or shot. A dog or cat that can find a home should not.

What is so wrong with making that distinction?

Yes. I can be speciest here, too. Domestic dogs don’t cause as much damage to wildlife– although I’d be lying if I said they caused none. But dogs are much smarter than cats, and one can easily teach a dog to leave prey species alone. Further, dogs have been in North America since the end of the Pleistocene. Our species have evolved with canid predation. They have not evolved with wildcat predation, although gray foxes are fairly close to wildcats in terms of their behavior and target prey species. Gray foxes, however, never have existed continent-wide and have never existed at such high numbers as feral cats do.

Dogs also normally don’t go feral, and they normally are required by law to be on leash or under the control of their owners. Such laws are rare, if not nonexistent, for cats. Most dogs in this country are owned. Feral and stray dogs don’t make up anywhere near the proportion of our dog population that feral cats do with the cat population. Dogs simply are not going to have the ecological impact that cats have had — at least on this continent.

The feral cat problems in this country are wildlife management issues. They are not pet issues. They are only pet issues so long as cat owners are irresponsible and don’t understand the potential that cats can have in an ecosystem. Responsible cat owners never let their animals roam at large.

I have nothing against cat ownership. I do have issues with irresponsible cat ownership, and I also issues with “feel-good” measures being used instead of sound wildlife management principles. Sometimes invasive species must be killed to protect native ones, even if that invasive species happens to belong to a species that people love.

We humans are the ultimate invasive species, but unlike cats, we have big brains that allow us to come up with sound management principles. We may not always follow them, but sometimes, we have to do things that aren’t so nice. Sometimes creatures must die so that others can live.


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