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