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Hero cat saves the day

Why we should KILL every stray cat in Britain: That's the deeply controversial conclusion of a new book. Here, in a piece that will appal millions, a naturalist backs a cull
To be frank, I am not a cat person. While I will grudgingly accept that they bring joy to many, I struggle to understand our national affection for felines when they have such a nasty side.
Cats may be cuddly, but our popular pet is also a lethal killer — responsible for the deaths of millions of wild birds and mammals every year.
And now one leading scientist has called for a wholesale cull of millions of moggies. And, to be honest, I'm inclined to agree with him.

In his book Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences Of A Cuddly Killer, U.S. bird expert Dr Peter Marra gives his stark verdict on the cat problem.
They kill 55 million birds in the UK — and 2.4 billion in the U.S. But it's not just their devastating impact on wildlife that bothers him — cats also threaten human health by passing on infections such as toxoplasmosis, which can be spread via cat faeces.
Toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage if it infects pregnant women, and has been linked to anxiety and depression. In rare cases, it can lead to blindness.

His solution? House arrest — or death. Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme this week, Dr Marra called for all cat owners who allow their pets to wander free to stop doing so immediately.
'Cats are allowed to roam; that has to stop. Put them on a leash if you want them outside.'
This may sound radical, but when the alternative is simply allowing these domestic killers to roam free, I believe we have to take his suggestion seriously. Then, to the horror of millions of cat-lovers, he proposed a far more radical solution — one that would deal with the more than nine million stray cats currently living in Britain.

Garden birds such as the robin and blackbird simply haven't had time to learn to adapt to the cats' presence, and so often fall victim to their surprise attack
Garden birds such as the robin and blackbird simply haven't had time to learn to adapt to the cats' presence, and so often fall victim to their surprise attack.
Accurate figures on the carnage they cause are hard to come by, but the latest estimate from the Mammal Society suggests that cats bring in as many as 275 million prey items every year in the UK, of which 55 million are birds.
How much impact this has on the overall bird populations is disputed by some. The RSPB points out that of the millions of baby birds that hatch out each year, the vast majority will die before they get the chance to breed. And, the argument goes, because cats tend to catch young, sick or weak birds — those which would probably have died anyway — the overall effect may not be quite as serious as we first thought.
But — like Dr Marra — I'm not so sure. For some already declining species, such as the house sparrow, I wonder if ever-increasing numbers of cats may be what's tipped them over the edge into long-term decline.
And even if cats and their killing sprees are not actually reducing the overall numbers of birds, they still cause untold cruelty that I find unacceptable.
Cats have been responsible for killing many of the country's unique and endangered animals, such as bandicoots and potoroos (small kangaroo-like marsupials)
There are things you can do to stop your cat's murderous mayhem.
Cats Protection, Britain's leading cat welfare charity, recommends several ways to reduce the chances of your pet becoming a serial killer.
Cats hunt mostly at dawn and dusk, so by keeping them indoors during those times, you'll dramatically reduce the number of kills they make.

Fitting a bell to a cat's collar, and using a bird table rather than putting birdseed on the ground, will also help to protect your garden birds.
Cats Protection's veterinary officer Sarah Elliott also recommends neutering domestic cats, as this stops them wandering off and adding to the feral population. And she suggests keeping them indoors all night. But Dr Marra simply doesn't accept that these measures go far enough.
He argues that, worldwide, cats have been responsible for the permanent global extinction of more than 60 species of mammal, bird and reptiles.
These may include the Stephens Island wren, a tiny, flightless songbird that once lived on an island off the coast of New Zealand.
Back in 1894, so the story goes, the lighthouse keeper's cat, Tibbles, managed to kill the entire world population of this bird in just over 12 months.
Dr Marra claims: 'One cat with a cute name was responsible for the destruction of an entire bird species'.
Surprisingly, even the animal welfare charity PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — has cautiously accepted that culling may sometimes be the answer to the cat problem.
Calls to deal with cats have, however, caused uproar.
Last year a programme to neuter feral cats in Israel fell foul of Right-wing Jewish religious fundamentalists, who claimed it was sinful to use taxpayers' money to interfere with the animals' reproductive cycle.
And when the Australian government announced plans to slaughter up to two million feral cats last year, the singer and animal rights campaigner Morrissey was up in arms.
'We all know that the idiots rule the earth, but this is taking idiocy just too far,' the misery-loving crooner declared.
He went on to say that cats were like smaller versions of Cecil the Lion, whose killing by a U.S. dentist in Zimbabwe last year sparked outrage. And veteran French actress Brigitte Bardot, well known for standing up for dumb beasts, joined Morrissey in his opposition to the cull.
The Australian environment minister responded by calling cats 'a tsunami of violence and death'.
He also noted that, having been introduced by European settlers, cats have been responsible for killing many of the country's unique and endangered animals, such as bandicoots and potoroos (small kangaroo-like marsupials).
Is this enough to convince me we should get rid of all our cats and not just the strays?
Though I can't hand on heart say I'd be sorry to see the back of them, no, not quite. Even a dedicated bird-lover like me has to concede that's a bit extreme.
But I do believe that we need to put a stop to allowing domestic cats to roam free, with the devastating consequences for our wildlife that entails.
And if we can't find homes for the armies of stray cats? Well, I'm afraid I'm with Dr Marra — culling these cuddly killers may be the only solution.

Cats kill more than one billion birds each year
New estimate suggests hunting felines take bigger bite than expected out of wildlife
5:35PM, JANUARY 29, 2013

Domestic cats kill many more wild birds in the United states than scientists thought, according to a new analysis.
Cats may rank as the biggest immediate  danger that living around people brings to wildlife, researchers say.America’s cats, including housecats that adventure outdoors and feral cats, kill between 1.3 billion and 4.0 billion birds in a year, says Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., who led the team that performed the analysis. Previous estimates of bird kills have varied, he says, but “500 million is a number that has been thrown around a lot.”

Large numbers of outdoor cats pose challenges for communities

The number of outdoor cats in the city of Guelph is eye-raising, and these cats are more likely to be found in low-income residential areas, according to a new study from the University of Guelph.
The researchers' study of outdoor felines appears as municipalities struggle to address issues of homeless cats, including bird deaths and nuisance complaints from residents.
"Knowing the number of outdoor cats in our communities is the first step towards designing effective and humane management strategies for outdoor cat populations," said co-author Prof. Jason Coe, Department of Population Medicine.
Based on 145 surveys around Guelph, the city has about 7,600 outdoor cats, or nearly 50 per city block. Guelph is home to 120,000 people.
More cats live in low-income housing areas, according to the study, while fewer live around high-income commercial areas.
"This is partly due to economic reasons but also ecological factors," said lead author Tyler Flockhart, a Liber Ero post-doctoral researcher at U of G.
"We believe there are more cats in these areas because of increased opportunities for breeding, since in lower-income areas cats are less likely to be sterilized, and they have improved access to food sources. Cats also stay away from wooded areas where there may be more predators."
By knowing where higher numbers of cats occur, "we can geographically target humane control methods for controlling outdoor cat populations as well as compare these populations to where birds occur in our communities to figure out where the greatest impact of cats on birds is," said co-author Prof. Ryan Norris, Department of Integrative Biology.
The researchers counted cats on city streets, paths and alleys, and estimated totals for each survey area. The approach uses information readily available in most urban areas in North America, they said.
"The study was done using techniques that are easy, quick and cheap, providing an opportunity to apply the method to any community that is interested in knowing their number of free-roaming outdoor cats," said Flockhart.
"The hope is that we can bring together cat supporters and bird advocates to take actions to improve cat welfare and reduce the effect of outdoor cats on birds."

Unique health survey of Finnish cats reveals common and breed-specific illnesses

A research group led by Professor Hannes Lohi at the University of Helsinki and Folkhälsan Research Centre has conducted a unique study on the health of Finnish cats.
The most typical health issues in cats have to do with the mouth, skin and kidneys. In addition, the research group identified nearly 60 illnesses specific to particular breeds. These results can be used to improve cat welfare and develop breeding programmes, and they provide a solid foundation for future genetic research, particularly on breed-specific diseases. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, on 29 August 2016.
The cat is the most popular domestic animal in Finland. Most Finnish cats are mixed-breed housecats. Just over 4,000 purebred cats are registered every year. Nevertheless, there is little literature on feline illnesses, and no systematic population-level, country-specific health surveys had been conducted until now. A comprehensive health survey was developed for this study, covering 227 diseases as well as information on the cats' living environment, diet and behaviour. The goal was to gain information on how prevalent and breed-specific certain diseases are and to generate a foundation for genetic research and the establishment of a gene bank. The comprehensive survey charted the prevalence of more than 220 illnesses among a population of more than 8,000 cats.
Social media harnessed for comprehensive research data
"There is much less information about feline illnesses than, for example, canine ones. We used social media to gather our data, and the study benefitted greatly from the active participation of cat enthusiasts. Most of the data was collected in just over six months. Our research material is unique in its structure and scope, and it highlights important breed-specific genetic illnesses which are ripe for further study," explains researcher Katariina Vapalahti, the first author of the study.
The research material is extensive and covers more than 8,000 cats, just over 1,500 of them housecats. The study analysed the prevalence of 227 illnesses in 29 breeds as well as mixed-breed housecats. The study determined the most common diseases and disease classifications for specific breeds and breed combinations.
"All of the results by breed, including housecats, can be downloaded through our publication so that people can promote the welfare and health of their cats and researchers can decide on further lines of study. There are hundreds of images and tables in our publications. Our data is very comprehensive," Vapalahti states.
New information and basis for future study
The study provides a solid foundation for genetic research.
"We discovered nearly 60 breed-specific, or hereditary, diseases, and so far we have only identified the genetic mutation associated with six of them. Our study will help researchers develop a strategy for genetic research and prioritising sample collection. For example, our material revealed the prevalence of asthma among Korats and a renal disease in Ragdolls. These results can also help model corresponding human illnesses. Active cooperation with cat enthusiasts must continue in the future so that we can compile all relevant data. The cat genome has been mapped, just like the dog genome, and there are research tools out there," explains Professor Lohi.
The study also provides preliminary information on cat behaviour and differences between breeds. For example, British Shorthairs are calmer than many other breeds, while Turkish Vans and Bengals are more active and aggressive. The material has already been used to make more detailed behavioural analyses, and a separate publication is being prepared.
"The study provides useful information for preventing disease and developing breeding programmes. The results reflect the findings of previous research in part, but they also provide a great deal of new information on the health of purebred cats and housecats alike," Lohi concludes.

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