Feral Cat
The following is a response to the article "Meet the campus group who feeds and manages EKU's feral cat population," published in print on Feb. 28 and on the Eastern Progress website. The purpose of the Features section, in which the article was published, is to highlight groups and people in the campus community. If you know of a group or person you'd like to see highlighted, please send an email to progress@eku.edu.
 
Mr. Overton and others at the Eastern Progress,

The recent article about campus cats that appeared in the Eastern Progress paints a biased picture and fails to address the strong scientific consensus about the negative impacts of feral cats and their management. The domestic cats (Felis catus) on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus are not “free,” in fact they are feral; feral refers to an animal that is wild, meaning it is self-dependent to find its own food, shelter and water.

The Wildlife Society (TWS), the preeminent professional organization of wildlife biologists, has taken a stance against feral cats, stating that feral and free roaming cats are an exotic species to North America (TWS Position Statement).

The student chapter of The Wildlife Society at EKU works together with many organizations (including EKU) to assist in the management of Kentucky’s wildlife, and a big part of this in today’s world is managing exotic species, such as feral cats. Aiding an exotic species is quite contrary to almost any wildlife manager’s goals. Even worse, feral cats are, by many metrics, the worst exotic species in North America. Although potential disease transmission and a direct potential threat to human safety is part of the reason, the most critical impact feral cats have is by killing native birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Specifically, estimates of how many birds feral and free-roaming cats kill range from 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds annually.

Some examples of bird species that can be seen on campus and are killed by our feral cats, are the American robin, northern cardinal, eastern towhee, white-throated sparrow and dark-eyed junco. It is known through research that cats will hunt and kill birds whether or not they are being fed (Citation 1 and Citation 2).

Furthermore, the best research-based evidence demonstrates that Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) methods do not effectively reduce populations. On the surface, this research shows that while TNR policies were enacted, the population of feral cats at the University of Central Florida dropped by 66 percent, when in fact, 47 percent were adopted, 11 percent were euthanized and about six percent were killed by vehicle strikes. This means that only around two percent of the feral cat population was reduced by TNR, and it took 11 years to do so (Citation 3 & Citation 4). In addition, feeding feral cats attracts wild species onto campus such as raccoons and skunks, which are much more likely to carry diseases such as rabies and to either attack or spray students and faculty.

Despite the claims in the Eastern Progress article that TNR has been successful here on campus, they provide no direct evidence to support the claim. The Wildlife Society is opposed to the current actions of the university and of Community Cats Volunteers (CCV), and would happily work with the University to accurately assess and manage the feral cats on campus. At the very least, we would ask the feeding of the feral cats on campus to cease, as it is a wildly irresponsible program on multiple levels. Ideally though, we encourage humane elimination of the feral cat population through adoption into indoor-only homes of eligible cats and humane euthanasia of unadoptable cats (TWS Statement).

Although this may seem harsh, when considering the actual scientific literature, adoption and euthanization are the only actions that can effectively reduce the population. EKU can enhance the Campus Beautiful to be wildlife friendly by ceasing to feed the feral cats on campus and introducing a more effective, evidence-based management approach.

Sincerely,

Ted Brancheau, president of the EKU chapter of The Wildlife Society

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(7) comments

JJ McKibbin

Very well stated, Mr. Brancheau. These campus cat programs are terribly misguided and go against the very science that universities teach. Free-roaming cats on campuses and everywhere should be removed, not maintained.

Champhibian

It sure is nice to hear a voice of reason against the downward slide of the state of animal control across the country.

jb

Take it up with the people who neglect and abandon these animals. They are the problem. They do not spay or neuter either and the cats get out to mate. Cats - even feral cats were domesticated as companions and were never meant to go back into the wild. They have little survival skills without humans to help them. Have a problem with those trying to help these animals, shows who you really are. The animals are never the problem. We are a nightmare for them. We are the problem. I cannot even find one fact or source for any of your statements. Helping animals hurts NO ONE. They have every right to be here with us and exist on this planet.

JJ McKibbin

The people who neuter and re-dump cats are just as culpable as those who abandon cats in the first place. Once a cat is in a trap it should never be released to free-roam again. Find an indoor home, an outdoor enclosure, or humanely euthanize it.

rebtris

Perhaps The Wildlife Society (TWS), "the preeminent professional organization of wildlife biologists" should take a stance against humans, since humans (aside from Native Americans) are an "exotic species to North America". Humans have caused most (if not all) of the demise of nearly every species of plant and animal on this continent that is now endangered or extinct. In addition to habitat destruction and deliberate poisoning of rodents and insects that birds eat, every day thousands of wild animals (thanks to the USDA) are either trapped, poisoned or hunted down and killed in the name of protecting livestock or farms. Also everyday birds fly into cars and other motorized vehicles and like it or not, that is one of the biggest killers of birds that I've seen. As a truck driver, I've seen this with my own eyes. It happens all Spring, Summer and Autumn long: the cars hit and either kill or wound a variety of insects including moths, butterflies and other species of insects which birds like to eat; birds swoop down to grab the easy pickings and get hit by motor vehicles. I have had to brake to avoid hitting birds nearly every time I'm on the road in those three seasons. I've also owned cats for over 50 years and I've lived on the same 98 acre farm in WV for 21 years with a couple dozen spayed/neutered farm cats that are fed and cared for with free access to heated porches or the outdoors. I still have a most amazing array of birds here including every species known to live in this eastern area of the country. I see and/or hear: black capped chickadees, cardinals, red headed woodpeckers, indigo blue buntings, sparrows, eastern blue birds, screech owls, great horned owls, blue herons, eastern meadowlark, hummingbirds of all sorts, tufted titmouse, bob whites, mourning doves, whippoorwills, red tailed hawks and many, many others that I can't name off the top of my head. I am a bird enthusiast and a cat lover. I don't cut down all the trees, bushes and "weeds" like other land owners do so the birds have more habitat on my farm. Neighbors who cut down all the trees and bushes don't have nearly the variety or number of birds that my farm has. It's a fact that WV, along with some other eastern states, will pay a farmer to delay their first cutting of hay for a month or so because eastern meadowlarks are becoming threatened because farmers cut the grass in the fields for hay in the Spring and end up killing all the baby birds in the ground nest that eastern meadowlarks have their young in. (I suppose somehow that's the fault of feral cats too?) Also, I've seen with my own eyes that cats that are well fed hardly ever prey on birds and something the cat haters overlook (and this is huge), is that not every cat CAN catch a bird. I have a couple of cats who are very adept hunters but they mostly catch rodents. I have other cats that can't catch anything nor do they exhibit any desire to. To think that every feral cat out there is killing birds on a regular basis is utterly ridiculous and anybody who knows cats would be able to verify that fact. I saw a feral cat when I drove over the road, the poor little girl was literally starving so badly that she was eating the stale granola I put out for her (that was the only food I had with me on the truck). If that cat was such a bird killer as some people claim, why would she be starving? There were lots of birds in the trees above her. The cats on the campus bring far more good than bad and the only real issue dissenters have is that they deeply hate cats and that's the real reason why they are complaining.

JJ McKibbin

Rebtris - Wow. So much misinformation it's hard to know where to begin.

For starters whether we're Native Americans or Europeans or Asians or anyone else, we are all the same species - Homo sapiens. You're suggestion that The Wildlife Society take a stance against humans is a typical deflection tactic of cat advocates. You should know that cats are simply an extension of the human hand of destruction. We allowed them to free-roam and we need to take serious meaningful steps to curb their destruction. Your anecdotal observations of birds killed by vehicles is not science. Actual scientists have studied this very phenomenon. Their research shows that an estimated 200 million birds are killed annually by vehicles in the U.S. This is no small number, but it pales in comparison to the number of birds killed annually by cats in the U.S. -- 2.4 Billion. Your natural landscaping is admirable, but if you're keeping "a couple dozen" cats free-roaming on your property, all you are doing is luring them to an attractive killing ground. Of course birds will be enticed into areas that look like suitable breeding territory. They can't know that it is loaded with cats waiting to kill them and any chicks they produce. What you have built is a sink habitat, where new birds are continually drawn in, only to be killed by a non-native predator that they did not co-evolve with. The fact that you see birds on your property is meaningless.

How many hours per day do you directly observe each of your cats? If you are still driving truck, I would suspect there are days at a time where you never see them at all. You have no idea what your cats do when you aren't directly observing them. Cats hunt day and night. They kill flightless nestlings and fledglings, and adults trying to protect their chicks. Cats that are well-fed by humans simply have more energy for hunting. We learn and take steps like delaying haying to help ground nesting birds, but that is worthless if we continue to allow cats to free-roam the fields. Why don't you learn to contain your cats?

rebtris

I think it would be an even better idea if YOU "learned to contain" your cat hating emotions which are the real driving force behind every comment you made. I notice you didn't even mention or think of addressing the FACT that most cats can not even catch a bird. I've owned cats for over 50 years, I know them quite well. In that time I've noticed that I have only one or two cats that will even try to hunt anything. You didn't address the FACT that I saw with my own eyes, a feral cat that was starving while there were dozens of birds in the trees above her. If she were such a "bird killer" as you and the rest of the cat haters suggest, WHY was she SO hungry that she was eating stale granola? As for me not knowing what my cats are doing, I don't drive over the road anymore and I only work part time being semi-retired. I also have cameras set up to observe what goes on both inside and outside my home at all times. As for my property being "a sinK" that's just you choosing to ignore the FACT that it's habitat destruction by HUMANS that is diminishing the numbers of birds as well as every other type of insect, wild mammals and even plant life. Where I live it is common practice to spray pesticides liberally onto the "weeds" which contain the seeds that birds eat. I guess you'll sweep that under your rug of cat hatred as well? While you are conveniently ignoring the damage that humans are doing, better factor in the number of poisoned insects and rodents that birds eat and die from. Rodents and insects that have been poisoned by HUMANS. You also glossed over the FACT that the state of WV will PAY farmers to delay their first cutting of hay in an effort to save the ground nesting Eastern Meadowlark. You gonna blame that on feral cats too? How about the honey bees that are disappearing fast, is that somehow the fault of feral cats?
The so called "scientific" research you cat haters are so keen on quoting is flawed because they "guesstimate" how many birds are killed by cats by GUESSING that each cat kills X amount of birds. That is patently untrue, I know this because I have observed this with my own eyes over the aforementioned 50 years of caring for cats and noticing that only a small fraction of the cats I have at any one given time are even interested in hunting, even those that have been rescued from being "feral" (another word for HUMANS abandoning their pets). So your "scientific" research is flawed and by your own admission HUMANS are to blame for the feral cats (that's the one thing you did get right) so all that's really left to support your position is your venomous hatred of cats which is THE driving force behind every feral cat hater that hides behind their "cats are killing all the birds" mask. So as I suggested at the beginning of this reply: I think it would be an even better idea if YOU learned "to contain" your cat hating emotions!

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