Saturday 7 August 2021

4 scientists deserve praise for saying the truth about feral cat predation in Australia

This band of four scientists deserve praise for pushing back against the doctrine as disseminated by the Australian local governments and the federal government, which is that feral cats on the continent are decimating native species and killing wildlife in the billions. These four scientists have written an article for the website The Conversation which I think puts the record straight. I've been writing about this for years and it almost seems that they have got some ideas for me but I am being big headed. These are the four I'd like to praise.
  • Arian Wallach, Lecturer, Centre for Compassionate Conservation, University of Technology Sydney;
  • William S. Lynn, Research Scientist, Clark University;
  • Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Wisconsin-Madison and;
  • Joann Lindenmayer, DVM, MPH is an associate professor in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University
Their article is titled: Don't blame cats for destroying wildlife-shaky logic is leading to moral panic. The moral panic aspect of the title is interesting. It implies that shooting, trapping and poisoning feral cats in Australia is morally unjustifiable. It certainly is. And they mention, as I have, that Australia has declared war on cats, particularly the feral cat. 

Feral cat shooter of Australia
Mad bad and sick as far as I am concerned. Man carries tabby feral cat back to where? He's just shot it at night. He's having great fun saving Australia from native species Armageddon at the hands of feral cats. He is a member of the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia with a cat he shot. Photo: Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

This has been going on for donkeys' years. It is almost as if the governments of the various states of Australia are minded to indoctrinate their citizens into believing that the feral cat is their enemy. I had the pleasure of interviewing an Australian on the topic of feral cats and she almost recited like a mantra what she's been taught by these governments. Although I respect her point of view.

But the experts that I mention on this page say that they have a shaky case against cats. They said the claim that feral cats kill billions of animals causing a catastrophe in conservation does not stand up to scrutiny. Feral cats fit into the ecology of the Australian continent and it is complex. For example, when humans denude places of its vegetation small animals are more at risk of predation by cats because they can't hide. That is a single example.

And they say the small animals are vulnerable when people kill apex predators such as the feral cat. There is a knock-on effect. In Australia dingoes hunt feral cats which relieves pressure on native small animals, they say. If you got rid of the cats would the dingoes hunt small animals? And cats can contribute to the conservation of endangered birds by killing rats and mice. Rats are very efficient predators themselves and they prey on birds.

They say that cats play different roles in different environments and you can't assume that because feral cats are a problem in one place that they are a problem in all places on the Australian continent.

And you can't extrapolate from one small study about feral cat predation on native species and say that that happens across the entire country. In the words of the experts that I want to praise, they say that "many scientists take specific, local studies and over-generalise those findings to the world at large."

They state that there should be a far more rigorous approach to the study of feral and domestic cats and such studies should be "mindful of the importance of ecological context and avoid the pitfalls of faulty reasoning".

These guys deserve praise because they're pushing back against the conventional mantra of these governments which, as mentioned, is indoctrinating the citizens. It is time that this stops and a far more nuanced approach is taken which is also ethical. Almost everything that these governments are doing in relationship to feral cats are unethical and cruel. Their slogan is to kill them anyway possible. Crude and stupid, I'd say.

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