Cats Indoors Action Alert: Sign On Letter to Protect Wildlife and Public Lands
Given the proven degree of environmental harm and human health risks, it is time for the federal and state agencies responsible for managing wildlife and public lands to take action to protect birds and other wildlife from cat predation. American Bird Conservancy has drafted a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell asking the Department to develop a clear management policy to protect wildlife and to address the impacts of feral cat colonies on public lands.
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November 4, 2013
The Honorable Sally Jewell
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Secretary Jewell,
On behalf of the undersigned conservation organizations, we urge swift action to address the threat to wildlife populations and human health posed by feral cats.
In the past year, a series of new scientific studies have been published documenting extensive wildlife mortality resulting from cat predation, growing risk to human health from rabies and toxoplasmosis spread by cats, and the ineffectiveness of trap, neuter, release (TNR) programs at stemming cat populations. As Secretary, you are in a position to direct action to conserve wildlife and to adopt land management policies that will ensure public lands are not degraded by the presence of cat colonies.
This issue was raised with the Department in an attached April 12, 2011 letter to Secretary Ken Salazar. To date, while discussions with Department of the Interior or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) staff have taken place, no meaningful actions needed to address this problem have been taken by the Department.
As the Smithsonian Institution and FWS have found, there is great urgency due to the high mortality wildlife populations’ face. A peer-reviewed study by scientists from these two organizations estimated that approximately 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals are killed in the United States by cats every year.
While both owned and un-owned cats contribute, un-owned (e.g., feral) cats are responsible for over two-thirds of these bird deaths and nearly 90 percent of mammal deaths. Cats are now the number one source of direct anthropogenic mortality for birds and mammals, and their impact on wildlife will only increase as the numbers of cats – which have tripled in the last 40 years – continue to rise.
Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that feral cat colonies pose a threat to human health. According to the CDC, cats are consistently the number one carrier of rabies among domestic animals and disproportionately pose a risk of human exposure to rabies because of the increased likelihood of human-cat interactions.
A recently published study led by CDC scientists stated, “The propensity to underestimate rabies risk from cats has led to multiple large-scale rabies exposures.” Continued tolerance for roaming feral cats is, according to the Florida Department of Health, “not tenable on public health grounds because of the persistent threat posed to communities.”
Toxoplasmosis also threatens the health and welfare of people and wildlife. This disease is caused by a parasitic protozoan that depends on cats to complete its life cycle. Up to 74 percent of all cats will host the toxoplasmosis-causing parasite in their lifetime and shed hundreds of millions of infectious eggs as a result. Any contact, either directly or indirectly, with cat feces risks human and wildlife health. In humans the parasite often encysts within the brain, which may cause behavioral changes and has been linked to schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and other neuroinflammatory diseases. Pregnant women may suffer sudden abortion or fetal developmental defects (e.g., blindness). Wildlife are similarly at risk, and contamination of watersheds with infected cat feces has been linked to the deaths of a number of freshwater and marine species (e.g., otters, Hawaiian monk seals).
Multiple studies, including the CDC’s, have found that TNR programs do not reduce cat populations and cannot be relied upon as a management tool to remove cat colonies. TNR colonies may actually lead to increased numbers of cats. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown that TNR fails to adequately reduce feral cat populations and does nothing to reduce predation on wildlife or transmission of disease. One long-term study of TNR in Rome, Italy went so far as to call TNR a “waste of money, time, and energy.” The only sure way to simultaneously protect wildlife and people is to remove feral cats from the landscape.
Cat colonies are a common problem on many federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior. We urge that each agency develop a clear policy for the removal of cat colonies on the federal lands they are responsible for stewarding.
American Bird Conservancy
Audubon Society of Northern Virginia
Centre Wildlife Care
Eastern Long Island Audubon Society
Endangered Habitats League
Five Valleys Audubon
Foothills Audubon Club
Georgia Ornithological Society
Greater Wyoming Valley Audubon Society
Hope Valley Audubon Society
Ivy Creek Natural Area
Juniata Valley Audubon Society
Lahontan Audubon Society
Lane County Audubon Society
Maryland Ornithological Society
North Dakota Birding Society
Salem Audubon Society
Sangre de Cristo Audubon Society
Saving Birds Thru Habitat
Soda Mountain Wilderness Council
Southern Adirondack Audubon Society
St. Lucie Audubon Society
Tennessee Chapter Sierra Club
Tennessee Ornithological Society
The Nature Conservancy – Kentucky Field Office
Virginia Society of Ornithology
Western Nebraska Resources Council
Wildlife Center of Virginia
Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, Inc.
World Safaris/Safari Professionals
Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society
Yosemite Area Audubon Society
New Mexico Wildlife Agency Weighs in Against TNR
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, citing major wildlife concerns, recently sent a letter to the mayor of Albuquerque requesting that the city discontinue the practice of Trap, Neuter, Release. ABC has followed the Department’s lead and sent its own letter to Mayor Berry.
Now, we’re asking you to do the same. If you are a resident of Albuquerque or live somewhere within New Mexico, we ask that you send your own letter to your elected official. TNR is a failed strategy to manage feral cats that only exacerbates conservation, public health, and animal welfare problems. It is time to let elected officials know! TNR doesn’t work. It is time to treat cats just as we treat dogs.
The Portsmouth Humane Society in Portsmouth, Virginia, has been caught dumping cats into the nearby woods and recording them as “adopted.” It appears that shelter employees even dumped the cats in neighboring cities. The (now former) shelter director described the behavior as her organization’s version of Trap, Neuter, Release.
Florida Southern College has canceled its plans to conduct a TNR program on campus after public health concerns were raised.
Palo Alto Online
Feral cats being fed by the public are threatening native wildlife in the Baylands Nature Preserve, which is habitat for 14 endangered, threatened, and sensitive species. The City Council will consider a ban on feeding cats this fall.
The Palm Beach Post
Rabies was identified in a feral cat colony in Lake Park, Florida. The rabid cat bit or scratched four people, exposing them to the virus.
Spotlight on Science!
Rabies still a public health concern in TNVR programs
A new study led by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of the serious risk of rabies to people posed by feral cats. Although Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release (TNVR) programs are promoted by some as a way to reduce cat populations while also effectively shielding the public from rabies, this study has concluded that “TNVR programs do not provide effective rabies vaccination coverage or cat population control.” The authors noted that “feeding of feral cat colonies sustains their populations, and it likely subjects them to increased disease transmission by increasing cat densities and contact rates.” See American Bird Conservancy’s press release.
USA Today ran a story on this paper’s release.
Roebling A. D., D. Johnson, J. D. Blanton, M. Levin, D. Slate, G. Fenwick, and C. E. Rupprecht. 2013. Rabies prevention and management of cats in the context of Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release Programmes. Zoonoses and Public Health doi: 10.1111/zph.12070.
Cats the top anthropogenic bird killer in Canada
Scientists from Environment Canada have published a synthesis of anthropogenic mortality for birds and concluded that domestic cats are the number one source of bird mortality annually in Canada. Both feral and pet cats ranked higher than any other single identified source. According to Blancher (2013), cats are estimated to kill 100-350 million birds per year in Canada, and mortality is likely to increase as the number of cats continues to increase. Read American Bird Conservancy’s press release.
Blancher P. 2013. Estimated number of birds killed by house cats (Felis catus) in Canada. Avian Conservation and Ecology 8: 3.
Calvert A. M., C. A. Bishop, R. D. Elliot, E. A. Krebs, T. M. Kydd, C. S. Machtans, and G. J. Robertson. 2013. A synthesis of human-related avian mortality in Canada. Avian Conservation and Ecology 8: 11.
New study: toxoplasma infection may make mice permanently fearless of cats
A study published in the online journal PLOS ONE by University of California graduate student Wendy Ingram has found that the bizarre impacts to mice from the Toxoplasma gondii parasite—which can cause spontaneous abortion in pregnant women or lead to death in immune-compromised patients—may be permanent.
Infected mice lose their fear of cats, which is good for both cats and the parasite, because the cat gets an easy meal and the parasite gets into the cat’s intestinal tract, where it continues its cycle of infection in the only place it can sexually reproduce.
The link among cats, T. gondii, and humans is documented by several studies. According to one, up to 74 percent of cats will become infected with T. gondii during their lifetime, depending on the type of feeding and whether cats are kept indoors or allowed to roam outdoors. A 2011 study found that 63 percent of human patients with acute toxoplasmosis had become infected through cat feces. See http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/releases/131002.html for more details.
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