A picture of a ginger tabby-and-white feral cat with a rat in his mouth is used to illustrate an article by CNN on the calamitous state of America’s famous national parks as they are overrun by feral cats, rats and hogs.
Invasive species, both plants and animals, are a long-standing threat to the National Parks of the United States. – the study
It is not a good look because the national parks are incredibly popular with Americans and tourists. About 40 million people go camping in the US annually and many camp in the parks as they are by far the most popular camping destination.
Every day there are 1.44 million visits to the parks. Annually that works out at about 318 million. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular, receiving 11.42 visits a year. It gets 4.9 out of 5 in 35k reviews. Awesome. These are enormous numbers. I love these treasured parks.
How are feral cats getting into the parks?
But how are feral cats getting to parks like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? A road, the 441 runs through it but there appears to be no towns on the road. The long distances from towns on the periphery of the park to the park interior (around 100 kms) must prevent feral cats entering the interior of the park in any numbers.
I don’t have any first hand experience of visiting this park but to me it seems inconceivable that feral cats are in living and thriving in this wonderful place except perhaps the odd cat at the boundaries of the park.
Perhaps this is a very gradual process and the cats have bred over decades. And perhaps some people have dumped cats out of car windows while driving on the 441. Is that the reason for the feral cats in the park?
Yellowstone NP is similar in terms of very low human population numbers around the park. This works against the concept of feral cats being in the park because there has to be a source for these cats at the beginning.
Perhaps once again a small number of hardy feral cats made their way over large distances into the park’s interior and survived, living long enough to successfully breed and create offspring.
That thought goes against the classic image of the US feral cat, living in urban environments or near towns and cities where there is a food source. We are told that they have 3 year lives. I don’t believe this and this story of feral cats overrunning the national parks supports that.
Credible? Yale article does not mention cats
However, I have to confess that I don’t believe that feral cats have overrun the parks. I think it is an exaggeration by the CNN reporters: Wolfe and Ries. But they say their article is based on a study by US Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, the US National Park Service and university departments.
A Yale website says that ‘more than half’ of the parks are overrun with invasive species. They cite rats, pythons and feral hogs but not cats. That might be telling. They say the invasive species present a ‘deep and immediate threat’. There is no comprehensive programme to tackle it.
I have found the actual study on the Springer website (The unaddressed threat of invasive animals in U.S. National Parks). The abstract does not clarify if feral cats are included in the invasive species referred to.
My personal conclusion is that the CNN reporters have too casually selected a photograph of a feral cat to illustrate their article thereby misrepresenting the presence of feral cats in US national parks and their impact therein. There will be some feral cats in the parks but it will be an insignificant number with very limited impact. Am I wrong? Tell me in a comment.