Bringing Together Cat Caretakers And Bird Conservationists
It is estimated that as many as 50-150 million free-roaming cats live in North America, and approximately 600 million globally. Management of free-roaming cats have been a controversial conservation issue for many years. Several research studies report that free-roaming cats may be responsible for millions (or billions) of wildlife mortalities.
The impact that free-roaming cats have on birds has created a contentious debate on the best way to manage them. The authors note that, in a literature review, two studies from the U.S. and U.K. garnered media attention and thus the involvement of non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups and professional societies to focus on how to protect birds. The studies discussed methods in which free-roaming cats should be protected, such as: encouraging responsible companion animal guardianship by keeping all cats indoors; removing legal protection of feral cats; opposing trap-neuter-return; and removal of feral cat colonies.
Meanwhile, they found a more recent survey of the general public in the U.S. and New Zealand, and case studies where feral cat management challenges were found, which revealed that: respondents who worked with agricultural animals were more likely to support lethal control; women and urban residents opposed euthanasia more than men and rural residents; and education was positively related to support for euthanasia.
Here, the authors noted that there was a need for a broader scale of research to complement the above. Their research sought to explore the opinions of two main stake holders regarding free-roaming cats: cat colony caretakers (CCC) and bird conservation professionals (BCP). The aim of the study was to evaluate, compare and predict CCC and BCP opinions concerning how cat colony management conflict should be addressed, impacts of feral cats on wildlife, appropriate treatment of feral cats, appropriate management of feral cat colonies, and effectiveness of TNR programs.
To gather and evaluate these opinions researchers for conducted an online survey of U.S. CCCs and U.S. BCPs between February and May 2011. The researchers hoped to obtain responses from at least 3 CCC and 3 BCPS from each state as well as the District of Columbia. A total of 577 individuals responded to the survey with a breakdown of 338 CCC responses and 239 BCP response. Please see the response table below: Insert response Table 2:
The survey consisted of a mixture of yes/no questions as well as agreement level questions. The researchers also asked questions regarding socio-demographic information such as age, gender, education and martial status were also asked.
The survey results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that there were polarized opinions between the CCCs and BCPs. Although more than half of CCCs and BCPs considered themselves to be both “cat people” and “bird people,” their opinions on how to manage colonies were no more moderate than those who did identify themselves as one or the other. Researchers found that the two groups’ opinions were polarized on all statements regarding the impacts of feral cats on wildlife as well as the appropriate management of feral cat colonies and the effectiveness of TNR.
The researchers also found some gender differences: CCCs who were men were more likely than women to support treating feral cats as pest and were also more likely than women to support managing feral cat colonies with euthanasia. Meanwhile, BCPs who were men were more likely than women to support treating feral cats as pests, and were also more likely than women to support managing feral cat colonies with euthanasia.
Overall, the results of the survey can help CCCs and BCPs identify their differences and commonalities to address shared long-term goals. The researchers believe that, “BCP values could be used to guide management in high conservation priority areas and CCC values could guide management in low conservation priority areas.” They go on to say that, “these strategies build on conversation psychology principles by providing both groups a greater sense of control, expanding their sense of belonging, and promoting positive self-images.” For feral cats around the U.S. having CCCs and BCPs working together could be a welcome change to the status quo.