Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Can we speak about what is difficult to speak about among those who hold strongly to positions? No, not the Presidential elections. The Question is, What To Do To Save Birds - or How Humans Can Easily (?) Stop Bird Extinctions - and the Moral Dilemnas Posed By This Issue.

It is not often that we can easily see the cause-effect consequences of our actions, or failure to act, in the world at large. Here are recent explorations and suggestions about "The Moral Cost of Cats." 

I will quote extensively from this article by Rachel E. Gross in Smithsonian.com about Peter Marra in order to lay out some of his major points. The article itself also discusses at length his "opponent's" positions and criticisms.

The full article is at:


"(Peter) Marra might like cats. But he also sees a bigger picture. In his day job, he and his team at the migratory bird center track the global movements of birds and tease apart threats to their existence. He knows that birds don’t just twit around pointlessly. They pollinate plants, spread seeds, control insects and protect environments from the effects of climate change; they are the glue that binds healthy ecosystems together. “Birds are critical,” he says. And outdoor cats, he and other ecologists have determined, are the leading human-influenced cause of dead birds...

The majority of them (cats) —about two-thirds to three-fourths, surveys say—are your sweet, harmless, cuddly housecats, which seldom set foot outside...The other one-quarter to one-third, though, aren’t so harmless. These are outdoor pet cats, and they are murderers...sometimes their deadly instincts spell trouble for animals and ecosystems we value—and often, Marra argues, desperately need...The solution for these cats is simple, says Marra: Bring them indoors. The Humane Society of the United States agrees.

So far, so good. Now comes the real problem: unowned cats, which include strays and ferals. Born in the wild or abandoned, feral cats spend almost no time with humans; they’re basically wild animals. Stray cats, by contrast, often have a working relationship with humans. They might live in managed communities, where a human caretaker regular feeds and watches over them—“subsidizing” them, in Marra’s words—meaning their numbers can soar to rates they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Whether stray or feral, these cats kill on average three times as many animals as owned cats, according to Marra...

Feral cat advocates say these dense numbers threaten the welfare of cats themselves, which lead miserable lives colored by fights and starvation. Ecologists, meanwhile, worry about those cats’ victims—as well whether the cats might be spreading disease to humans and other animals. Management of these overabundant felines is where the two disagree. For many animal welfare advocates, the solution is TNR, or Trap-Neuter-Return...

TNR is just what it sounds like: a policy that involves trapping stray and feral cats, sterilizing them and returning them to the urban wilds in the hopes that populations will decrease. In the past decade, TNR has gone mainstream in many cities, helped along by generous funding from pet food companies including Petco and PetSmart. The premise is simple: Cats live out their lives, but don’t reproduce.

Becky Robinson, president of the advocacy group Alley Cat Allies and a major proponent of TNR, calls the method “effective, humane control.” “This is a benefit directly to the cats,” she told me over the phone. (Two communications staffers from Robinson’s organization were listening in our conversation, to give you an idea of the delicateness of the topic.)....

The problem is that, for TNR to succeed in large populations, at least 75 percent of cats in a colony must be sterilized. That rarely happens. The trouble is that negligent pet owners continue to abandon pet cats, which then join existing colonies; additionally, non-neutered stray cats can wander in....

For Marra, TNR is a feel-good solution that is no solution at all—a Band-Aid that has done little to stem the flow of cats. By refusing to look at the reality, he says, we are letting our “misplaced compassion” for cats get the better of our reason. That is why he and some other ecologists call for a more draconian approach: widespread removal of feral and stray cats, including euthanasia....

At the heart of this debate is a question not of data, but of aesthetics, principles and philosophies. That is:

In a world fundamentally shaped by humans, who is to say whether birds and native wildlife have any more right to the landscape than domestic cats do? Should the goal be to rewind the urban landscape back to before the arrival of Europeans—and is that even possible?

...Cats kill; that much is clear. “The science is all pretty bloody obvious,” as Michael Clinchy, a Canadian biologist focusing on predator-prey relationships at the University of Victoria, puts it. But cats also spread disease. Outdoor cats can transmit plague, rabies, feline leukemia and a mysterious parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. The extinction of the Hawaiian crow, or ʻalalā, in 2002 is thought to have been caused in part by the spread of Toxoplasma via feral cats. “The diseases from cats is what’s going to change this whole equation,” Marra says....

Conservation biologists have always called these kinds of shots themselves. “We’ve made a judgment that biodiversity is good,” says Temple. For Marra, cats represent yet another destructive footprint man has made on the landscape. To rid the country of their presence is therefore to restore some pre-human balance of nature, some lost sense of grace. It is to protect those creatures that cannot save themselves. “It is essential,” he says, “that we save these species.”

In his closing chapter, Marra warns that Americans may soon awaken to dead birds and “muted birdsong, if any at all.” It’s another nod to Rachel Carson, whose defense of nature helped spark the modern environmental movement. Today we’ve come to recognize Carson as an environmental Cassandra; history has vindicated many of her inconvenient truths. But when Silent Spring first came out, her ideas were met with hostility from other scientists, who deemed her hysterical, alarmist and “probably a Communist.”

For Marra, it is clear that outdoor cats represent the Silent Spring of our time. Not only are cats the single worst threat to birds caused directly by humans, but they are also the easiest problem to fix, as compared to many-leveled threats like climate change."

After reading this argument, are you convinced?

If you are interested, please read article and links within it to see the counter arguments of those who challenge Marra's positions, such as Peter Wolf.  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/moral-cost-of-cats-180960505/

Do their positions convince you?

What should you do?

What can you do?