06 December 2010

Report on Addressing Feral Cats Captures Media Attention

A report which presents options to manage feral cats, has received more attention because of a news article issued in the Lincoln and Omaha newspapers. There have been numerous comments online - in editorials, stories and blog postings - with the many comments indicated by a search on "feral cats" at an online news article website.

The commentary has brought renewed interest in the publication "Feral Cats and Their Management" issued by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension office as an extension circular.

Feral cats are "domestic cats gone wild," according to the illustrated guide, and do not have any owner, are not tame, and live outdoors, and are known to prey on available food resources including wild birds. More than 60 million feral cats are estimated to occur in the United States.

Predation by cats on birds has an economic impact of more than $17 billion dollars per year in the U.S. The estimated cost per bird is $30, based on literature citing that bird watchers spend $.40 per bird observed. ..."

The guide is the result of a project by University students a couple of years ago, according to Stephen M. Vantassel, a wildlife damage project coordinator at UNL. A class taught in the past couple of years by Scott Hygnstrom (vertebrate pest specialist at UNL) did a review of the published literature on this subject, considered the issue and otherwise investigated the subject of feral cats and related topics.

The American Bird Conservancy was quoted in association with the article, and supported its findings.

"We are grateful for the comments from the American Bird Conservancy," Vantassel said.

The NebGuides are issued to help people resolve issues related to wildlife. ONE essential aspect of this particular guide is the "legal status" of feral cats.

Feral cats in Nebraska are not defined within any state statute, making it difficult for people to suitably address their presence or impacts, or undertake any necessary control measures, in a legal manner.

"This is a legitimate question," said Vantassel, noting there is no definition of feral cats which indicates whether they are "domestic or wild" and how they are subsequently considered.

The circular provides several strategies that are effective for people that need to "deal with" unwanted feral cats.

The situation is especially prominent in urban areas, where birds congregate in small tracts of usable habitat.

Vantassel noted there are other impacts to wild birds, including habitat destruction and fragmentation, bird strikes at buildings and towers, and other factors which cause bird mortality.

Landscaped areas such as urban park lands and similar places are examples of sites where local predation can cause bird mortality.

Migratory birds gather at urban landscapes where they are prey for local predators. These sites are "bird sinks" where predators have a significant advantage over their prey and can cause major negative impact on bird populations.

The issue of feral cats "has to be dealt with," Vantassel said, stating that there is a need to "start somewhere" to address the mortality of wild birds by feral cats which are a "protected predator which cause an imbalance in the natural order."

The circular says "...this is a difficult and controversial topic ..." It considers the applicable issues regarding feral cats, the known impacts on birds and other species, and available options.

"One solution is not a total solution," Vantassel said. "Feral cats are a human-created problem that can be resolved" by carefully considering the issue and taking appropriate steps.

Stephen Vantassel's comments are his own and do not reflect official policies and positions of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He can be reached at stephenvantassel1@hotmail.com