International Cat Protection Group says: "Environmental Scientists are playing a dangerous game."

Nov 01, 2012, 11:42 ET from Alley Cat Rescue

MT. RAINIER, Md., Nov. 1, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Alley Cat Rescue (ACR), the international cat protection organization, urges environmentalists to act cautiously when pronouncing that they want ALL outdoor feral cats eradicated.  

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ACR President and TNR (trap-neuter-return) pioneer, Louise Holton, is asking the environmental community to seriously consider what happened on just 2 islands when they eradicated cats.  Says Holton: "Marion Island and Macquarie Island both clearly show that the decisions made were not wise and over time would cause further damage. Macquarie Island, in particular, was an ecological disaster."

In 2009, reported: "Efforts to remove cats from Macquarie Island, a Sub-Antarctic Island and World Heritage Site, have indirectly led to environmental devastation, according to a report published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The removal of the invasive species…also serves as a wider warning about human interference in ecosystems and how good intentions can go awry."

According to the studies lead author, Dr. Dana Bergstrom of the Australian Antarctic Division: "Satellite images show substantial island-wide rabbit-induced vegetation change. By 2007, impacts on some protected valleys and slopes had become acute. We estimate that nearly 40 percent of the whole island area had changed, with almost 20 percent having moderate to severe change." The removal of cats has led to a boom in the island's rabbit population – another species introduced by humans – causing widespread devastation to the island's vegetation.

A case from which important lessons must be learned, says the report's authors.

The scientists behind the study claim that Macquarie Island is a rare example of so-called "trophic cascades" – the knock-on effects of changes in one species' abundance across several links in the food chain. As well as species extinction, in extreme cases it can even lead to an ecosystem "meltdown."

Today, the island's ecosystem is in worse condition than ever and the Australian government has allocated $25 million more to attempt to kill off the island's rats and rabbits. But the efforts of the government brought the island to the brink of an "ecosystem meltdown," a cure much worse than the actual problem.

The second Island is Marion Island in the Atlantic Ocean. The eradication of cats was touted as being a huge success, even though it took around 19 years and various control methods to kill just a few thousand cats; methods such as aerial-spraying the feline distemper virus over the island, using poisons, intensive hunting, trapping, and dogs. And remember this was on a small island, not a huge continent.

In regards to this "successful" eradication of cats, scientists are now saying: "We suggest that house mice are impacting the sheathbill [native bird] population by consuming terrestrial macro-invertebrates, and that this impact has been exacerbated by the removal of feral cats, by the massive reduction in burrowing petrels…and by climatic warming (which may be promoting higher densities of mice). This proposed web of interactions between sheathbills, introduced species, invertebrates and burrowing petrels needs to be further investigated, given the likelihood of further climatic changes."

"Why experiment on a continent, when there is clear evidence that on small islands these seemingly easy decisions to kill cats have caused further destruction of the environment? Why not all work together? We ALL want to control the feral cat population. Non-lethal control, paid for mostly by private individuals, has been successful for around one million feral cats in the U.S., possibly more, according to a recent Alley Cat Rescue survey," Holton explains.

Trying to kill feral cats in the United States will cause a national outcry. Cats are America's number one companion animal. And feral cats are just like indoor cats, except for their "wild" nature. They are natural scavengers, and when they don't scavenge from human providers or from human trash, they are rodent specialists. Feral cats are simply filling a niche left by carnivores who have been hunted into extinction by humans. Some cats do catch birds, but many researchers agree with B. Fitzgerald and D. Turner that, "Any bird populations on the continents that could not withstand these levels of predation from cats and other predators would have disappeared long ago."      

About Alley Cat Rescue Inc:

Alley Cat Rescue (ACR) is a nonprofit 501©3 working to protect cats on several levels: locally through rescue, rehabilitation and adoption and nationally through a network of Cat Action Teams (CAT), and internationally, through spay/neuter clinics. ACR is dedicated to the health, well-being and welfare of all cats: domestic, stray, abandoned and feral. ACR runs a weekly low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Maryland. ACR has been responsible for sterilizing over 30,000 feral and stray cats in Maryland.

SOURCE Alley Cat Rescue