I’d like to propose as an idea that a form of genetic engineering called ‘gene drive’ be used as a way to reduce the feral cat populations in America and Australia. Local governments in both these countries are struggling with what they see as a ‘feral cat problem’.
A gene drive is a type of genetic engineering technology which spreads certain desirable (to humans) genes throughout a population by altering the probability that a specific allele (a variant form of gene) will be inherited by offspring.
The idea is make all born female feral cats infertile or change the sex ratio by favouring the birth of males over females until the population becomes mostly male. Both would result in a huge decline in feral cat numbers over time.
It may sound unacceptable to some people and I fully understand that. Personally I don’t necessarily agree with the idea but I do agree that something needs to be done because the lives of feral cats is too tough and we owe it to them to alleviate their suffering although not all feral cats suffer because many are cared for under TNR programs. Also far too much cruelty is meted out to feral cats by cat hating people in many but not all countries (think Australia mainly and also China and Asian countries).
PETA are against the idea of genetic engineering to control grey squirrel numbers in the UK because they argue that genetic engineering is morally unconscionable when carried out on humans and it would be just as ‘reprehensible’ if used on squirrels.
Contraceptives for feral cats have been proposed but the idea did not take off. TNR is the most popular method. All cat lovers like TNR as it is very humane. However, many people particularly those in government have doubts about TNR or dislike it because it does not produce results quickly enough.
Gene drive genetic engineering could produce thousands of gene-edited male feral cats who’d be released so the gene which makes females infertile would spread across the US. Feral cats would stop reproducing. TNR has the same objective but it is achieved through surgery. Not a huge a difference if we are honest.
One danger with gene drives is that the programme may escape the intended target and affect other animals and ecosystems. But, as I understand it, this risk can be reduced.
I’d certainly recommend that the Australian government look at this because all they are doing is killing feral cats in the most objectionable ways. Perhaps they have already checked it out and dismissed it.