[Introduction][Against cats][In defense of cats][References]
The disappearance of bird and other wildlife species is the fault of humans, not cats.
Climate change looms as the greatest ever threat to birds
72% of all bird species in Australia and more than a third in Europe could become extinct unless efforts to stop global warming are intensified. (From: Bird species and climate change: the global status report. See www.climaterisk.net for the complete annual reports.)
Indiscriminate burning-off practices destroy countless thousands of lizards, geckos and other small vertebrate animals
As reported by Ted Johansen, in his guide to the lizards of the Northern Territory. Mr Johansen won the National Landcare Program Individual Landcarer Award 2008 for his outstanding work in researching and creating awareness of the yellow-snouted gecko (Diplodactylus occultus).
Cats through the ages have been cruelly persecuted and almost wiped out at times for various reasons, most notably during the Middle Ages when they became all but extinct in Europe due to suspicion and fear that they were witches in disguise. The result was that rats were able to proliferate and bubonic plague or Black Death, which is carried by the rat flea, killed one third of the known human population. It is worth noting that the plague bacillus is still with us today, still present in many countries including Australia. Rodents also transmit other diseases that are potentially devastating to humans, including hanta virus, which makes cyclic reappearances in various parts of the world whenever carrier rodent numbers build up.
In some quarters, including some government departments, cats have been made convenient scapegoats for the human activities which have caused most of the wildlife decimation – not only habitat destruction and global warming as already mentioned, but also hunting activities for food, sport, and in some cases, "control" of feral and nuisance populations. Also thousands of birds and other wildlife are accidentally killed each day by cars. Dead birds are everywhere on our roads and it is a distressing site to see the number of marsupial carcasses littering the highways of inland Australia. "Every day Australian drivers kill about 40,000 native animals on the nation's roads." (From a news item on ninemsn.com.au 17/12/01). In late 2006, WIRES ran an advertisement on Australian commercial television stating that 7000 wildlife were killed each day on New South Wales roads alone. Tasmania's iconic Tasmanian devil is being decimated by a horrible facial tumour disease to such extent that there are fears for the long time survival of the species. Even so, wildlife experts will tell you that humans and their vehicles are proving an equal threat. Being carrion eaters, the devils eat road kill and so get run over themselves. Their carcases are everywhere on Tasmania's roads anywhere they still exist in some numbers (2007 observation).
The Native Bird Liberation Alliance points out that thousands of Australia's native birds are exploited annually and often die through cruel and unacceptable trapping, trading and confinement practices. On a broader scale, there is the trafficking in wild animals that goes on all over the world. In places like Brazil for instance, it is a billion-dollar industry resulting in the removal of vast numbers of animals from their natural habitat, many of which die before they ever reach their destinations. The Humane Society International estimates that the illicit global trade in wildlife is second only to the drug trade in terms of dollars involved. It is driving thousands of species to extinction and causes millions of animals to be kept in inhumane conditions.
And finally, perhaps the most telling arguments of all can be found in the
books of Queensland biologist Tim Low. Just a couple of noteworthy quotes
(in italics) are as follows:
1. Instead of needlessly angering cat owners by vilifying their pets (and I should say that I have never owned a cat), we might look around us at all the other (environmental) pests receiving much less attention. (from "Feral Future")
2. Biologists are coming up against more and more examples of birds and marsupials causing eco-strife. (from "The New Nature").
This highlights that, aside from the activities of humans themselves which is the most difficult challenge to the environment, the eco-terrorism activities of our "cutest and most colourful" birds also have a major impact. E.g. the currawong is well known as a vicious killer of other birds. Magpies when nesting will also attack and kill smaller birds such as willie wagtails (personal observation). Then there are the noisy miners, which are so belligerent and aggressive that they drive away everything else. 3. When small birds vanish from city precincts, cats usually cop the blame, but noisy miners are often responsible.
Then there is the much-loved bellbird (bell miner), which engages in activities that allow sapsucking insects to build up to such extent that giant forest eucalypts will die. 4. Bushmen will tell you bellbirds live in "sick" forests.
It needs to be pointed out that noisy miners and bell miners are native to Australia and should not be confused with the introduced mynahs. The eco-terrorism activities of birds like miners also goes to prove that not all native animals and birds are "good guys", although it can be argued that successful species should not be condemned for being just that – successful.
Jackson (1999)... comments that the practice of banning cats in new subdivisions to protect wildlife is not based on sound evidence. In fact, Australia has denuded more than 55 million hectares of land and is currently clearing 309,000 hectares of wildlife habitat a year. Jackson points out that an extensive literature search demonstrates that this habitat destruction is the single most important threat to native wildlife in Australia. It is estimated that more than half Australia’s bird species could be extinct within a century because of the loss of this habitat from land clearing and grazing. While much of the clearing is due to rural activities, new subdivisions in sensitive urban fringe areas are a contributor to this process. She concludes that it is not the cats that should be banned but the new developments. (Barbara Fougere)
Unfortunately cats can also engender fierce hatred in a small but often very vocal and persuasive group of people. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Australia, where in 1996 the parliamentarian Richard Evans called for the “total eradication of cats from Australia”. Then there was the once high-profile John Wamsley of the now defunct Earth Sanctuaries, who upset and deeply offended every cat lover in this country when he took to wearing clothing and a hat made of skinned cats and declared that the only good cat was a flat cat. Another worthy of mention is Professor David Paton, who used biased data to make sweeping estimations of wildlife predation nationwide. Unfortunately Paton’s cat predation surveys mostly only included people who belonged to bird-watching societies. But Paton’s publication of this severely flawed and unrepresentative data further served to scapegoat cats, whether feral, stray or pet. It all just goes to prove that people will believe what they want to believe. Poorly researched surveys using unrepresentative and inadequate samples are well recognised worldwide as the source of much wrongful vilification of cats.
But the anti-cat campaign has been brilliantly successful at achieving its aim: ask just about any Australian who is not a cat lover and they’ll tell you they don’t like cats because they kill birds. In fact the campaign has been so successful that according to an article by Susie Chaseling in The Veterinarian Dec 2001, the owned cat population has been in steady decline since 1989 from 3.2 million to 2.6 million in 2000. She goes on to say that this is virtually unique to Australia because most other westernised countries are showing an increase in cat numbers along with human population rises. Reasons given for the Australian situation include changing societal structures, the perceived threat to wildlife, tougher legislation governing the ownership of all pets, the very high desexing rate of owned cats, also failure to replace a cat that dies. Interestingly, only a small percentage of people surveyed gave predation on wildlife as a reason.
Tim Low (1999) in his book ‘Feral Future’ points out that because urban cats may be observed to kill birds, they are often condemned as major killers.... However “ecologically there is nothing wrong with this — predation is a fact of life”. Lowe discusses the fact that pet cats are the urban equivalent of other bird predators like falcons and owls and that hunting only becomes a worry if death rate of birds exceeds their birth rate. (Barbara Fougere)
The psychology of cat hatred (aelurophobia), is indeed interesting but not for further discussion here. Suffice to say that cats have benefited humans enormously in many and varied ways as explained under the cat/human bond, which in itself is quite unique.
An article posted on the Community Biodiversity Network (17/09/01) pointed out that Australia is the biggest clearer of woodlands and forests of any developed country on Earth. At present, evidence indicates that an average of about 500,000 hectares of native bush is being cleared every year - or more than 100 football fields destroyed every hour in Australia ... Land clearing is having a devastating effect on millions of birds, reptiles and other animals, who are killed immediately or die from starvation or injury soon after their habitats are destroyed. According to Dr Garnett, author of the new Action Plan for Australian Birds, 7.5 million birds are killed every year as a result of land clearing. There are now 24 bird species of woodland birds listed as threatened in the Southern Brigalow Belt.
And from the Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail (07/05/02) an article headed "Bulldozer clearing ravages wildlife" begins by saying More than two million birds a year will disappear from Queensland bushland if tree clearing continues at its present rate, an ecologist has warned ... The ecologist is the University of Queensland's Professor Possingham, who also pointed out in the same article that there's a lag time between loss of habitat and loss of species, so that people often don't realise what's going on before it's too late.
And from Barbara Fougere - Cat predation is only one of a host of environmental hazards to native wildlife, the foremost being destruction of habitat, followed in no particular order by cars, foxes, rabbits, rats, hoofed animals, changes to water ways, introduced birds, pollution and others. Natrass (1998) states that habitat destruction due to urbanisation, industrialisation and the keeping of horses is often final with the species becoming locally extinct. It is habitat destruction which is the greatest threat to wildlife.
Even where cat predation is considered a problem, it is again the fault
of humans for failure to neuter and allowing cats to breed indiscriminately,
then later abandoning (dumping) them in bushland areas to fend for
themselves. It seems that of all the cat management strategies proposed or
in place, desexing and education
about responsible cat ownership have been the most effective.
The other strategy thought to be effective is compulsory cat registration
but now it’s unclear whether it is having much long-term effect in reducing
the stray cat problem in areas where it has been introduced. A major
criticism is that it simply places an added burden on cat owners who do the
right thing anyway.