Saturday, August 18, 2012

That cat won't hunt, hopefully

A short non-climate post here.  I've followed the outdoor-cats-are-killers issue for some years now, and as a local conservationist I've seen places where people are supporting large populations of feral cats by feeding them, usually places with lots of vulnerable wildlife nearby.  The capture-spay-and-return argument fails to realize that the non-spayed population will quickly increase to reach the area's carrying capacity.

More recently a non-peer reviewed study (what have you wrought, Muller and Watts?) put video cameras on 60 cats for a week and found nearly 30% hunted successfully in that week, killing 2 animals each.  If those numbers hold up, the figure translates into billions of animals killed by cats annually in the US.  This suggests that owned cats are significant problem as well as feral cats, and that well-fed feral cats will still hunt.

One obvious solution is to stop feeding feral cats and ultimately to ticket people who won't stop.  Another is to stop letting cats outdoors, although that encounters somewhat more reasonable resistance. A third solution I hadn't heard of before today is cat bibs that impede their pouncing. Might be a good thing to use on feral cats too, and a lot cheaper than neutering them.

Then there's my idea - if a majority of pet cats don't hunt for a week, a significant percent probably don't hunt at all, or hunt very little.  It should be possible to create a breed of cats with this temperament a fixed aspect of their personality.  While I'd normally encourage people to get pets from a shelter instead of a shop, if the intent is to have an outdoor cat then maybe a breed that's known not to hunt is a good idea.  And then give it a bib.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, why stop with cats.

Let's include pigeons and seagulls while we are at.

I have no idea why people do it, all they do is increase populations that are unsustainable unless they keep feeding them, that would grow if they fed them even more, and poop everywhere.

Louise said...

My puddy tat is scared of any small furry or feathery thing with a face - even toy ones. A robin in the garden is enough for her to run indoors.

She is a very effective hunter of flies though (and she eats these with relish).

dbostrom said...

I wonder if anybody's done reasonable studies of cats wearing bells? When I was a kid all of our cats wore bells, except a Siamese which was successful only at catching the occasional rabbit(!), perhaps because of poor depth perception.

Do bells actually work? They certainly were useful for announcing the presence of cats to us humans, at the time.

anna said...

A few thoughts:
cats don't only hunt birds, and logically don't concentrate on the endangered (less numerous) species.

i have a few chickens, consequently i have mice. so, i am very thankful i also have an enthusiastic mouser and would not want to do anything that interferes with her hunting ability.

a second thought is that populations of prey animals are pretty much adapted to the current predator pressure. remove that pressure and there could be all kinds of unintended consequences.
i'd be all for inhibiting feline hunting in areas with sensitive species - as long as you could be sure this would not preferentially benefit their competition (or another predator that pose cause an even bigger danger...)

DeadFrog said...

Louise, how does the cat get the top off of the relish jar?

bill said...

I have one large belled tabby, and he's had a long history of pulling down birds - both native and exotic - and mice - all exotic.

We can hear him wherever he's moving - for some reason his prey apparently cannot. Or maybe it just makes little difference; I once saw him instantly leap about 4 feet from an apparently disinterested crouch to attempt to catch a swooping honeyeater - fortunately he was unsuccessful. But the bell would have made zero difference in that instance.

Mice, pigeons, blackbirds, spotted turtledoves - I figure that a cat killing these is just part of keeping the balance within Australia's portmanteau biota, to use Crosby's memorable phrase. If I could stop him taking the occasional native I would, but all the species he does catch are plentiful, locally and nationally. Including the pests, sadly...

Anonymous said...

My particular bugbear about the cat problem is all the other things that suburbanites and public authorities do to deplete native wildlife.

Scratchy, tangled, prickly, thorny low-growing shrubbery used to be quite common when I was a child in the 50s. In gardens, parks and roadsides. Such wildlife friendly nesting and refuge facilities have virtually disappeared 50 years later. I'd be very surprised if Australia were the only country where we've both expanded the range of our invasive companion animals and simultaneously deprived our wildlife of their shelter and protection.

MinniesMum

Anonymous said...

Cats that don't hunt?
Like bats that don't bunt.
It simply can't be dunt.
It's in their very nature
To hunt the furry creature.

~@:>

Jeffrey Davis said...

What would a feral cat eat if it couldn't hunt?

John Mashey said...

Recall that When Tony Blair downsized hereditary component of House of Lords, Monckton's father ran on platform of muzzling cats to protect birds and outlawing line fishing to avoid cruelty to fish.

Therefore this post is climate relevant, through a Rube Golderg-like chain of connections.

Anonymous said...

I've worked professionally in cat control, both in 'eradication' and in public education. I've also had cats for many decades, so I understand both sides of the debate.

Some facts:

- Indoor cats can hunt, even though many people say that they don't, and even if it's years before their first experience of the outdoors.

- Old cats can hunt, even though many people say that they don't: I've seen 18 year old cats bring home multiple animals per week.

- Pedigree cats can hunt, even though many people say that they don't, and purebreed can hunt very effectively too.

- Most outdoor-accessing cats that "don't hunt" do - the owners simply don't see them do it.

- 'Capture, spay, return' is bleeding-heart insanity. And completely ineffective in reducing feral numbers.

- Bells do not work, even two or three at a time. When a cat stalks its neck is held steady, and most cats quickly learn that this is a way to stop the noise.

- Similarly, sparkly crystals around the neck don't work - it ain't sunny underneath.

- Cat bibs are slightly effective, but not entirely, and present welfare issues.

- Cat control via trapping/shooting/baiting is a forlorn hope in almost all cases, except for certain island contexts. Perhaps there is scope for biological control in the future - without it many endangered speices will be doomed to extinction.

- Keeping cats indoors works to prevent wildlife loss.

- Keeping cats in outdoor enclosures and/or within high- and tight-fenced yeards works to prevent wildlife loss.

- All cats should be desexed unless owned by a registered breeder. In Australia at least this is becoming more prevalent as local/State legislation.

Ol' Deuteronomy.

Sou said...

Thing is, people need animals. They are good for the soul and remind us we aren't the only species on earth.

There is a moralistic aversion to domesticating or befriending wild animals so that leaves pets like dogs and cats - unless you're happy to cage your pets in which case you can opt for birds and fish. (If you live on more land you can have chooks and horses and other domestic species, but most people don't have that opportunity.)

I'm surprised by the video'd cats - only 30% hunting and of those only averaging two animals a week. I'd have thought more than 30% would be killers and they would get more than two kills a week (counting snakes, lizards, spiders, moths, frogs and mice as well as birds).

On the other hand, it would not be hard to breed non-killer cats IMO. There are plenty of those around.

Anonymous said...

Birds kill birds. A hawk swooped down on a crow in my front yard. The other crows were upset and cackled and crowed dismally.

Dogs kill birds. My sister's Jack Russell is great at jumping up and grabbing one out of the air.

People kill birds. They hide in blinds and shoot ducks out of the air.

And what's special about birds? I had a cat that was an excellent hunter, mainly of mice. He caught may be a month -- he told me. He meowed unusually and excitedly when I came home and then he did not rush to his food dish. I started answering, "You got a mouse. Wow!" and then he meowed back. I saw him out the window catch one and sure enough he told the story when he came in. He also caught squirrels, I found squirrel tails in the yard, and at least once a bird.

According to the bird lovers, we shouldn't have windmills because they kill birds!
http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/wind-turbine-kill-birds.htm

so back to climate.

Snow Bunny, paradoxically a cat lover

Russell said...

Are you suggesting Viscount Monckton's sister's father in law, Lord Lawson, wants to muzzle wind turbines because birdstrikes attracts feral cats?

On the windy slopes of Bishop Hill, the word is that :

" the purpose of the windmills is not to save CO2. it's to provide carbon trading/offset receipts for the banks and to support the Euro by a non-national taxation. There is also the political narrative: they are like the Easter Island Statures, a symbol of the power of the ruling elite whilst the workers willingly toil at green jobs.

To that extent, they are the direct descendant of the swastika, the symbol of the domination of the first green religious socialism, Nazism. Basically when they are plastered all over our land and power is rationed to those favoured by the state, we'll be a subordinate region of the Greater Reich which may then be centred in Turkey,
"

John Mashey said...

That is *really* Rube Goldberg, but with Lawson and Monckton, one never knows. As for Bishop Hill, recall that Montford depends on quotes from a Dog Astrology Journal, specifically article 5 mentioned there (written by David Deming).

So, we have cats, birds, dogs.

I haven't checked this, but if true, windows are way worse for birds than feral cats, although those are #2.
Wind turbines are also-rans.
[The famous Altamont problem was due to locating the early small-diameter, high-speed turbines in a raptor area.]

Anonymous said...

Cats don't kill birds, sharp teeth do.

~@:>

Brian said...

Anon at 8:28: stuff I've been reading tends to agree with you about bells being ineffective. Not so sure about the bibs being only slightly effective, but they're new to me. What are the welfare issues? The info suggested they get into fewer fights, which might reduce disease transmission.

If feral cats can't hunt, then they'd be dependent on feeding stations, or get caught by animal control.

Outdoor enclosures seem like a good alternative.

Anecdote time! The cat I grew up with didn't get outside until she was five. Although declawed and not very adventurous (never more than 100 yards from the house) I'd find a few kills a year, and I'm sure there were more. Still, my impression is that keeping cats indoors until they're adults, and neutering males, reduces the amount of roaming and possibly hunting.

dhogaza said...

"[The famous Altamont problem was due to locating the early small-diameter, high-speed turbines in a raptor area.]"

Which were mounted on derrick-like structures which are attractive to certain species that frequently perch-hunt, in particular red-tailed hawks. Many other raptor species like to rest by perching a few tens of feet above the landscape, as well.

Modern turbines are much less hazardous to raptors.

And despite "snow bunny"'s silly snark - "According to the bird lovers, we shouldn't have windmills because they kill birds!" - the reality is that mortality to rarer, sensitive species at harmful levels can be mitigated with careful siting. Monitoring of bird kills are required by many states, perhaps at the federal level (haven't looked into this in awhile), and such data gives feedback into the siting process for future projects.

Conservationists have demanded careful siting, monitoring of bird kills, have opposed particularly poor projects (those planned in known golden eagle transit corridors, for instance), etc. Some in the wind industry do translate the deman for *careful* deployment of wind turbines as "we shouldn't have windmills because they kill birds!" Sort of like it's generally known that those who argue to reduce CO2 emissions want us all to live in the stone age ...

John Mashey said...

I grew up on a farm, so of course we had cats, who earned their pay. Besides the typical American Shorthairs (I think), we had a bunch of gray cats descended from a female who just wandered in, whose owner we never found. I have no idea what they were, but might have been Persians or British Shorthairs (visible muzzles). I'll just call them grays.

One of the dogs was a big German Shephard/Husky, the sort who could put paws on your shoulders and look you in eye. He used to chew on the regular cats, but the grays wouldn't put up with that and would gang up on him if he bothered any of them.

I once saw him notice one of the grays (seemingly) asleep alone in the barn, look around (he couldn't see me) and then pounce on the gray ... which flipped on its back and gave him all 4 sets of claws across the nose.

I doubt these grays would have put up with bibs. Whatever they were, they were tough.

John Mashey said...

And if you want to see an angry cat, my favorite is this.

Gaz said...

Anyone who cares about native wildlife should keep their cat indoors.
People who let their cats out to hunt at night should be prosectued just the same as anyone who hunts endangered species, because that's what cats do.
I say this as a reformed cat-let-outer - I tried putting a bell on my cat but she just learned to sneak better, so indoors she stays.
Sure, most of the animals she caught were introduced species (like mice, and Indian miners) but that's because there's hardly any native wildlife left to catch. Doesn't mean she wasn't trying to mop up any survivors.
The difference feral animals make to the naturual balance is phenomenal. The national parks people around my area did a fox baiting program and the result was an immediate rise in the population of aninmals and birds that had rarely been seen for years - like powerful owls, bush turkeys and bandicoots.
Neighbours moved in next door recently with two beautiful cats - burmese I think - that get put out to hunt every night and that was an immediate goodbye to birds in my back yard like New Holland Honeyeaters and Easter Spinebills. They won't be back until the cats get run over or die of old age.

Russell said...

Wind turbine blades that flail catnip balls within a few inches of the ground would reduce the feral cat population while providing fast food for raptors.

Anonymous said...

In my public speaking engagements I frequently have people tell me that cats are a natural part of the ecosystem, and that it's both cruel and "unnatural" to attempt to reduce their impact.

Unfortunately for these folk, the simple truth is that the Australian indigenous fauna are evolutionarily naive to feline predators, and most have no effective behavioural adaptation that could protect them against cats. Between them, cats and foxes have driven to extinction or to endangerment many native bird and mammal species, and they're doing a good job on some of the reptile species.

To further reinforce the fact that keeping cats indoors when young is ineffective in reducing later hunting behaviour, I myself have a neutered Burmese that I kept indoors for the first five years of his life. The first time I left him in the care of a friend he escaped between the legs of a visitor and he (the cat) returned with a rat (not the visitor). The second time it was a tree snake, and then a rabbit. I now train my sitters...

A relative of mine has a spayed British short-hair that spent the first 7 years of her life indoors. On her first escape she piled up a bird, a mouse, and several skinks at the door before her absence was discovered.

For all their benefits as pets, it remains a painful truth that cats are a nightmare for native animals.

On a lighter note, when I was a boy I had a friend whose cat used to bring home fallen, dried leaves of the ubrella tree Schefflera actinophylla. He engaged in the attention call typical of cats, but in this cat it was a persistent, loud yowl for attention. As soon as he managed to draw someone to the front door he'd be off to gather another leaf. Some days there'd be a dozen or more on the front mat, which used to puzzle folk unfamiliar with the cat - and it confounded us, because we never found out where the leaves came from.

Ol' Deuteronomy.

John said...

BOY, this topic gotta lotta comments. It seems that everybody has a cat story, or a bird story.

Posts about climate science evoke a weary yawn. But cats are a red-hot topic!

bill said...

I think it's popular because many here are environmentalists, and are well aware of the tensions between this position, and the ownership* of an often well-loved domestic moggy and small critter killing machine.

Particularly those of us who are part of the globally dispersed European population - e.g. Americans, Canadians, Aussies, NZers, etc. - and who are in turn components of a transplanted portmanteau biota, along with our cats. Hence the focus on the cats' impact on native wildlife.

There's little doubt that the feral descendants of domestic felines have had a devastating impact - strikingly so here in Australia - but the impact of spayed and generally well-supervised pets that are also popular family members is a greyer area, at least for those of us who live in the weird cosmopolitan pseudo-nature of the suburbs well away from 'wild' areas.

*Actually, only dogs have owners; cats have staff.

J Bowers said...

20 years old when she passed (might have been 21, nobody can remember exactly when we got her) our cat had figured out in her twilight years what went on in the WC. If the door hadn't been left closed properly we'd sometimes find her in there trying to do the business like a human would, perched on the toilet seat looking like she was about to fall in. Slept looking like a roast chicken with head tucked under body, and went out for the night almost every night of her post-kitten life, unless it was too cold or really bad weather. Strangely, I can't stand cats ever since she died.

Anonymous said...

My recommendations for pacifying your pet moggie: 1) put a bell on it - one of those ones they used to put on cows should do the trick, 2) give it unlimited helping of food until it is so obese it can barely move.

Pico

John Mashey said...

Bill Cosby - Dogs and Cats.

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny says

This may be very specist of me, but I'm more concerned about coyotes getting peoples than I am about cats getting birds. Two inches short of my screen door, I decided flight might not succeed, so I whirled for fight. The beast stopped at the bottom of the 2 stairs to consider how much menace I might be. I open the door and went in.

They go yip-yip-yip when they are after you to make you run. They can knock you down from behind and then what can you do? Turns out they are timid and stupid: if you have to confront them they don't know what to do. A young boy bopped one on the nose and it took off.

Coyotes moved into the east recently. Environmentalists think they are great for the ecology (as are housecoats, bobcats?) they are a natural predator. While I agree in theory there are too many people, I don't choose to consider myself one of them.

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny again:

Cats enjoy "hunting" beams from red laser lights. Turn it on and they'll come running, they hear a high frequency emission. Move the pointer around and they'll chase it -- across the floor, up the sofa, onto the arm, down again, up the stairs. "Videots" after a red dot.

I knew 3 indoor cats who loved the laser. They took turns, about 1 minute apiece. The big cat would chase it until he was exhausted. When he could no longer run, he'd lie there and reach his paw at it. Guaranteed he wouldn't catch anything after that if he got out.

Once I saw a large spider in the corner. I set the beam on it, the cat came roaring up to 'catch' the red dot, the spider took a defensive action: it jumped straight up! The big, feisty, alpha cat ran off in terror. And suffered the humiliation of hearing a room full of people laughing at him.