|As silly and misguided as it is for the State of Wisconsin to be considering an open hunting season on domestic cats, the fact they are doing so has, at least, called attention to the problem of feral cats in our area. But killing the cat at the bird feeder will do nothing to solve the problem of domestic kitties-gone-wild.|
Feral cats are a people problem -- caused by irresponsible pet owners who let their cats outdoors . . . and who fail to have them spayed or neutered. Some of these domestic felines invariably give birth to kittens under porches, in sheds and other places where they are raised with little or no human contact. So the offspring grow up wild.
The knee-jerk reaction of killing wild cats also fails to address the very real fact that fatal approaches to controlling animal populations are not the least bit effective, in general. A dramatic example of this was brought to my attention last fall, when I helped coordinate the first-ever, large-scale feral cat management project in Minnesota. On one property we trapped about 85 wild felines in just a few days. More than 90% of those kitties were under 1 year of age -- and that was a colony that had existed on the site for more than 20 years.
This example tells us something really important: Only a small number of domestic cats-gone-wild survive the Minnesota winters. Winter is the "limiting factor" on feral cat populations here. No matter how many felines are trapped and killed the number that survive the winter to breed in the spring is unchanged. The available shelter and food supply through the winter will only accommodate so many felines. A person could quite literally trap and kill cats all year round, investing considerable time and effort, and have no net effect on the population. Killing a cat only opens up a space for another one to take its place.
Add to this the fact that domestic cats have an incredible ability to reproduce themselves. Starting with one female cat and her first litter, they can produce more than 400,000 kittens in just 7 years. They can produce 3 - 4 litters per year. The babies themselves are able to start breeding at just 6 months of age.
What we have going on here in Minnesota and our neighboring states is a huge population explosion of feral cats that starts each spring and continues into the fall. In winter time, this is followed by a huge die-off from the winter-kill.
With the warmer and shorter winters we have been seeing in Minnesota, the problem of feral felines is getting worse. And the toll on wild animal populations is incomprehensible. Some estimate there are millions of feral felines in the Twin Cites Metro area alone. Because they shy away from people, few humans see them. But they consume a lot of wildlife.
To solve this problem, all we really need to do is to keep our cats indoors, and to implement sterilization programs, like the Feline Feral Friends program Animal Ark launched last fall. . . to ensure that kitties that do survive the winter are not capable of breeding.
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