[CAT] "Could a Cat Ban in New Zealand Save Birds?"
Megan Gannon's LiveScience article provides the most thorough examination I've seen on the proposal of a New Zealand environmentalist to push for a cat-free New Zealand. I suspect that, ethics and popularity aside, such a push is impossible: New Zealand's North and South Island are much larger than the islands that have been successfully cleared of cats. Keeping cats indoors, in contrast, or otherwise confined, strikes me as a much easier thing to do, not least since doing this has clear benefits for the cats.
[Gareth] Morgan's newly launched campaign, Cats to Go, is pushing for much tighter controls on New Zealand's cats, which prey on native birds and are considered an invasive species on the island country. He's not asking all cat owners to euthanize their beloved pets (though his website says "that is an option"), but Morgan wrote in a Jan. 23 op-ed in Wellington's Dominion Post that owners should acknowledge that they are harboring "a natural born killer."
"At the very least responsible people should consider not replacing it when it dies and meanwhile either keep it indoors or invest in a cat-proof enclosure in the backyard," he wrote. Morgan also suggested neutering and cat collars with bells, and the campaign's website has a petition to lobby local governments to require that all owners register their cats.
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"He is not proposing anything that hasn't been tried elsewhere — and that hasn't been opposed vigorously by the cat activists of the world," Stanley Temple, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus in conservation, told LiveScience. A cat owner himself, Temple said that Morgan's pitch to keep cats indoors should not be controversial.
"We have long accepted the fact that you can't let your dog run free, and yet cat owners seem to take offense at the idea that they would be asked to keep their cats indoors," he said.
Once let outside, cats often look more like hunters than cuddly creatures whose main enemies are stuffed toys. A 2011 study in the Journal of Ornithology showed that in suburban areas outside of Washington, D.C., 80 percent of gray catbirds were killed by predators before reaching adulthood, and nearly half of those deaths were caused by cats. Though exact figures are hard to come by, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) estimates that more than 500 million bird deaths in the United States can be attributed to cats, both pets and strays.
In an effort to keep vulnerable migratory birds out of feline mouths, ABC has been urging responsible cat ownership with its Cats Indoors campaign. Conservation goals aside, ABC officials said keeping a cat inside is safer for both the pet and its owner.
Bob Johns, a spokesman for the organization, said outdoor cats have one-third the life expectancy of indoor cats, and they are also more likely to pick up diseases from interactions with feral animals. While dogs are usually associated with rabies, cases of rabid cats are on the rise. In 2009, there were three times more reported cases of rabies in cats than dogs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From contact with cat feces, humans can also get the mind-controlling parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which has been linked to a variety of brain problems and mental health issues, including suicide attempts. The parasite is the reason pregnant women are advised not to change cat litter boxes. The deep bite of cats also can transmit the infection-causing bacteria Pasteurella multocida.