Saturday 30 January 2021

Reducing feral cat numbers should be painstakingly precise and patient work

This is a boring and ubiquitous problem: how to reduce the numbers of feral cats in any one place. It is a perennial problem for thousands of local authorities who want to protect wildlife. They are eager to do it but sometimes they use blunt instruments in their panic and desperation to get a result quickly.

The only way to remove feral cats from areas which are considered important in terms of conservation is to do it painstakingly and precisely. There are no alternatives because you simply must distinguish between domestic and feral cat. And all the cats in between those extremities. There are, after all, many semi-domesticated cats outside.

Feral cats
Feral cats. Photo in public domain.

If your plan is to trap and kill cats roaming around the landscape on the premise that they are all feral you are mistaken. You may be liable for compensation and you may be engaging in a criminal act in killing someone's pet. It can be very hard to distinguish between domestic and feral cat. That is why the process has to be painstaking and precise.

All the methods that I have seen thus far are too blunt. To cite one in Australia where they have invented a machine which sprays poison onto animals that pass by. How can it be safe for owned cats? Perhaps they can make it as safe as possible but it can never be 100% secure. The problem once again is distinguishing between domestic and feral. The machine can't do it. Neither can it distinguish between a cat and another animal.

I've just written about Taranaki, a beautiful area in New Zealand dominated by Mount Taranaki. They have wildlife there which needs to be protected from freeroaming cats some of whom are feral and some aren't. Some are dumped by irresponsible owners. The suggestion is that all cats roaming around this area should be balled together and described as pests and vermin. Domestic cats are not pests or vermin. They are someone's domestic cat or were and they've been dumped. You can't kill these cats because they are still owned technically by the person who dumped them.

There has to be accountability. Cat owners acting this irresponsibly should be tackled and punished. They should be monitored. There should be standards preventing this kind of behaviour. Once again, I realise this is very difficult to manage. It is a challenge to improve cat ownership standards and force changes in habits which are against domestic cat welfare and conservation. I'm referring to abandonment in the countryside.

The conclusion is that dealing with feral cats has to be done humanely and in order to do that you have to be precise and painstaking: TNR comes to mind + enforceable laws governing cat ownership.

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