Feral Cat - New Jerusalem Monastery Istra, Moscow Oblast, Russia - Photo carlfbagge (Flickr)
These are my critical observations on the document, "Feral Cats and their Management" written by Aaron M. Hildreth, Project Technician—School of Natural Resources Stephen M. Vantassel, Wildlife Damage Project Coordinator Scott E. Hygnstrom, Vertebrate Pest Specialist.
The underlying tenor or feel of this document is that it is anti-feral cat and that it is slightly biased against the cat. On one or two occasions it is downright hostile towards the feral cat and worse, completely incorrect and misleading. The section about the economic damage done by the feral cat is badly thought out and, in my opinion, flawed and misleading.
The opening sentence gives and indication as to the flawed thinking in this document that, incidentally can be readily found on the internet using Google. This is frightening because a lot of people are essentially ignorant of what feral cats are all about in the same way that many cat owners are ignorant of the true meaning and effect of declawing. Spreading misinformation is highly irresponsible.
The opening sentence states that, "feral cats are domestic cats that have gone wild.." This is not entirely correct as many, perhaps most feral cats are "born" wild and have not therefore "gone" wild.
The authors say in respect of the history of the domestic cat, "cats were used to reduce the number of rats and mice that resided around settlements." True, but the cat was domesticated for the purpose of companionship as well. The mutually beneficial process of domestication was more than merely functional.
I would like as well to challenge the author's definition of a "stray cat". They say, "stray cats always applies to feral cats…" I think this is incorrect. Although there is no fixed definition of the term "stray cats" it more accurately applies to domestic cats that have strayed - a logical definition. These cats are not feral but may be in the process of becoming feral.
The next statement made by the authors is wholly misleading. They say that, HSUS estimates that a pair of breeding cats produce over 400,000 cats in seven years assuming none die. This may be true theoretically using a mathematical model but can never be the case in reality and if it can never happen the statement should not be made as it misleads and creates a false impression. Realistically, a decent authority on cats (Franny Syufy - About.com) says that about 400 offpring over this period is a more accurate assessment - see How Fast Do Cats Breed?. And lets be clear, these are estimates. The world of quasi-scientific literature such as this document, Feral Cats and their Management is littered with inaccurate estimates upon which so called "facts" are disseminated.
I would like now to come to one of the central planks of the authors' arguments as to why feral cats are a nuisance and should be shot (amongst other control measures).
The authors try and quantify in financial terms the cost to the nation (USA) of the maligned feral cat. They make the stark and startling statement that, "predation by cats on birds has an economic impact of more that $17 billion dollars per year in the US." How did they work that out!? The firstly say that cats kill an estimated 480 million birds per year (assuming 8 per cat per year). "Assuming"? How can you base a firm and very large monetary cost on an assumption and an estimate? The answer is that you cannot and this is very misleading.
An important factor too, is that the authors of "Feral Cats and their Management" do not at any point in their document provide references to sources. Yes, they provide source material in general but not specific to certain important statements. This is a major weakness of this report because the source material cannot be checked. And believe me it needs checking. So called scientists providing scientific studies that form the basis of reports such as this one can often be biased and simply incorrect. There are a lot of scientific "estimates" about the number of birds killed by cats but they are only that - estimates and they are questionable. See Domestic Cats Do Not Decimate Bird Populations for example.
Back to their assessment of the financial cost of the cat on the US economy. Their $17 billion cost is based, the authors say, on an estimated cost of each bird of $30! This figure is, "based on literature citing that bird watchers spend $.40 per bird observed, hunters spend $216 per bird shot and bird rearers spend $800 per bird released."
The trouble with this tenuous and in my view flawed argument is that if there are significantly more birds in the USA than are watched then if a cat kills one that would not have been watched in the first place there can no financial loss. The same principle applies to hunting and rearing.
Another flaw is the concept of a person spending money in relation to birds and equating that to the value of birds. If a person spends money on petrol (gas) to get to a place where he can shoot a bird does that make the bird worth the cost of the gas? That seems to be what the authors are saying and if I am correct it seems bizarre.
Also what, "literature" are the authors referring to? Can we check it please? How are these figures calculated. You simply cannot make grand statements about large financial cost without tight supporting evidence.
The authors also say that, "Feral cats can transmit several diseases to humans and other cats, including cat scratch fever, plague, rabies, ringworm, salmonellosis, and toxoplasmosis." People spread disease too! The point is that they don't own up to the fact that the risk to people is incredibly small. Toxoplasmosis is far more commonly spread by poor handling of raw meat. The feral cat is hardly responsible as cleaning out litter boxes is the other main source of infection and feral cats don't use litter boxes.
I'll stop there. I could go on.
Conclusion: This report, Feral Cats and their Management, is flawed and therefore misleading. It should not be used as a basis for decision making in respect of how to manage feral cats.