Monday, January 1, 2007

Cats, other predators' effects on wildlife to be studied

Free-ranging cats and other predators of wild birds may come under increasing scrutiny - and perhaps some control - under a cooperative program that the American Bird Conservancy launched this month.
Dubbed Project Predator Watch, the effort is intended to engage bird watchers and other nature observers in investigating the impact of stray, feral, or otherwise unattended cats and other bird predators.
"Scientists estimate that free-roaming cats and other predators kill hundreds of millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians each year," stated George Fenwick, president of the ABC. The organization, based in Washington, D.C., works to conserve native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.
"Any citizen can participate in Project Predator Watch and provide valuable information needed to conserve birds and other wildlife by clicking a few buttons on their computer," Fenwick said.
The PredatorWatch survey can be found on-line at Participants are asked to provide information to be used by scientists and conservationists in the following areas:
• Helping to identify birds and other wildlife most likely affected by interactions with cats and other predators.
• Determining whether predator/wildlife interactions are affected by season or climate.
• Determining whether certain wildlife species, age or sex classes, are more vulnerable to predators.
Survey participants observing what is quaintly called "predator/wildlife interactions" can complete a short on-line survey through ABC's Cats Indoors! Web site at
The Conservancy initiated the indoor-cat program in 1997 to educate cat owners, decision-makers, and the general public that cats, wildlife, and people all benefit when cats are kept inside, in an outdoors enclosure, or are trained to go outside on a harness and leash.
In related news, the ABC and the Wildlife Society report that nationwide, domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and more than a billion small animals annually.
"But cats are not ultimately responsible for killing native wildlife - pet owners are," asserted Laurel Barnhill, bird conservation coordinator and wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Barnhill was responding to an ABC report on the impact of feral cats on bird species of concern in New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, and Hawaii.
The report, done under a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, analyzed the effects that cats are having on some of America's most at-risk bird species in cat-predation hot spots. Among the species especially threatened by free-ranging felines are Florida scrub-jay, piping plover, and Hawaiian petrel. Other key targeted birds include painted bunting, least tern, and black rail.
A copy of the report can be seen at the Conservancy Web site.
The Wildlife Society, the professional association of wildlife biologists, has reaffirmed its position advocating the humane elimination of feral cat colonies because of their threat to wildlife.
Feral cats and free-ranging, or stray cats in fact are exotic species to North American wildlife and are one of the most widespread and serious threats to the integrity of native wildlife populations and natural ecosystems, according to Rickie Davis, a Clemson University professor and president of the South Carolina chapter of the society.
The society supports passage of ordinances that ban public feeding of cats, and supports educational programs and materials that call for pet cats to be kept indoors, in enclosures, or on a leash. The society's positions on cats can be read on-line at
The related ABC report highlights the growing trends of so-called managed feral cat colonies that use trap-neuter-release techniques and their effects on birds, especially at state and globally important bird areas.
Commentary: This column long has been critical of permissive or careless cat owners who allow their pets to roam free and kill at will, or who stupidly dump excess cats in rural areas because they lack the guts to face reality and do the right thing and have them put down.
The cat problem is just as prevalent in Ohio and Michigan as it is elsewhere. Two thumbs up to the ABC and Wildlife Society for calling such public attention to an inexcusable problem that is easily remedied.
Zero tolerance with free-ranging cats is the answer.


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