Analysis of recent bird mortality event seems to confirm earlier research showing that birds killed by cats are generally in poor health.Read more ›
Analysis of recent bird mortality event seems to confirm earlier research showing that birds killed by cats are generally in poor health.Read more ›
In late 2009, Sharon George was struggling to recruit participants for her master’s thesis. A student in the University of Cape Town’s conservation biology program at the time, George was studying the hunting habits of suburban Cape Town’s pet cats. Although she’d distributed 600 questionnaires, only 32 had been completed—a response rate George describes as “very poor” in her thesis .
“The project in general was very challenging because of the way many cat owners perceived it. The majority of cat owners were unwilling to participate in the study because they felt it was ‘against’ cats and would lead to extreme measures being taken to control cat numbers” .
It turns out, the majority of cat owners were not wrong about that.
George’s results were published online in July as part of a larger study, accompanied by a media release (PDF) warning that “the research highlights the need to address the impact of cat predation on Cape Town’s wildlife, particularly near protected areas such as the Table Mountain National Park.” This led (not surprisingly) to sensational headlines proclaiming “‘200,000-plus’ wild animals slaughtered in Table Mountain National Park by Cape Town cats each year” and “Apocalypse Miaow II: ‘Keep cats inside property’, SANParks urges Capetonians.”
Earlier this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries office posted a story on its website warning of “localized lethal outbreaks” of toxoplasmosis among endangered Hawaiian monk seals. This comes after one seal died as a result of infection with the parasite and another is being treated by NOAA Fisheries staff. In 2018, three others were reported to have died from toxoplasmosis.
“The first documented monk seal death due to toxoplasmosis occurred in 2001. The disease has now killed at least 12 monk seals, making it a leading threat to the main Hawaiian Islands population.”
It’s difficult to see how 12 mortalities over nearly 20 years constitutes a “leading threat.” Indeed, according to NOAA Fisheries’ own reports, the monk seal population in the Main Hawaiian Islands might actually be at an all-time high. Read more
It’s difficult to imagine now—after a banner week of revelations, accusation, and obfuscations—but headlines earlier this month were dominated by dire warnings of a different kind: a looming ecological collapse as demonstrated by dramatic declines in North America’s birds. Coverage included stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Vox, Scientific American, and many other publications.
According to the reports, North American bird populations have declined by about 29 percent since 1970, a loss of roughly 3 billion birds.
Which leaves only about 7 billion birds. But just six years ago, researchers (some of which were also involved in this most recent study) published a paper estimating that outdoor cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds annually in the contiguous U.S. alone.
Are we really expected to believe that this one source of mortality (estimated only for the Lower 48 states, remember) is responsible for killing more than half of the continent’s bird population, year in and year out? Although numerous news accounts have referred to cats as contributors to the declines in bird abundance, I’ve yet to see one questioning this basic arithmetic (see Footnote 1).
Between 1979 and 2015, more than 13,000 U.S. veterinarians died. At least 398 of them took their own lives. Which, according to recently published research, is 2.1 (for males) to 3.5 (for females) times higher than the suicide rate nationally. Those working with companion animals (as opposed to, say, “food animals”) were among veterinarians most likely to die by suicide .
Unfortunately, the study provides no breakdown for shelter medicine vets, who generally see more killing than any of their colleagues other than perhaps those working with the aforementioned “food animals.” It’s not difficult to imagine higher rates of suicides among these veterinarians, certainly—but let’s set that aside for the moment and assume it’s no different from the overall rate for companion animal vets.*
What would happen if TNR opponents had their way—and the killing of healthy cats increased by a factor of 10, 20, or more? Read more
Referring to a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Los Angeles Times describes the considerable damage (much of it likely to be irreversible) done by “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his minions” as evidence of the profound ignorance and brazen corruption that have come to dominate public policy over the past two years.
“Among the up-is-down, night-is-day practices of the Trump administration, one of the most dangerous and disturbing is its habit of turning America’s leading science agencies into hives of anti-science policymaking.”
Reading the UCS report, one can only imagine the number of times the authors must have wanted, desperately, to use the term train-wreck. Or shit-show.
Alas, cooler heads prevailed. Still, the message comes through loud and clear, beginning with the report’s title: “Science under Siege at the Department of the Interior: America’s Health, Parks, and Wildlife at Risk.” Although government leaders should carefully consider the best available science in their policy making duties, argue the UCS authors, Zinke’s DOI:
“has instead stifled politically inconvenient research, put industry interests ahead of public health, and undermined science-based rules and regulations. The department has established a clear pattern of suppressing science and scientific evidence, particularly when they run counter to the interests and priorities of the coal, gas, and oil industries.” 
None of which is news to anybody paying attention. (For a painful refresher, check out the timeline provided in the UCS report, which documents no fewer than 40 “milestones” in the first 21 months of the Trump administration.) Still, in some corners of DOI, this “monumental disaster” would seem to be more a difference of degree than kind. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I’m looking at you. Read more
When a representative of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife proposes—apparently in all seriousness—that “permanent closed catteries” are a feasible solution to managing the country’s population of unowned, free-roaming cats, a number of questions come to mind. What evidence led to such a conclusion? How much funding is ODFW willing to allocate? What is the agency’s drug testing policy? Etc.
Let’s start with that first question. Read more
Picture in your mind a Venn diagram: one circle labeled “animal cruelty,” the other “wasted tax dollars.” The intersection, where the two circles overlap, is labeled “USDA Toxoplasmosis in Cats project.” That’s the visual takeaway from an exposé published earlier this week by the White Coat Waste Project, a non-profit whose mission is to “cut federal spending that hurts animals and Americans.” Read more
Full disclosure: I’ve listened to Hawaii Public Radio’s The Conversation exactly once, so I’m not going to make any broad generalizations here. Still, as an unapologetic Public Radio junkie, I found Tuesday’s show to be a bit of a train wreck.
According to the show’s website, the topic to be discussed was toxoplasmosis, the risks posed by outdoor cats, and “how to manage the situation.” In fact, relatively little attention was paid to the risks—either to humans or wildlife—and discussion of legitimate management options was avoided almost entirely. Instead, listeners (the broadcast is available here) were in for a campaign of misinformation and scaremongering fueled by useless factoids—including, for example, a reference to the estimated “14 tons of cat poop” deposited annually in Hawaii’s state parks. Read more
It’s hunting season, a fitting time for Peter Marra to be reiterating his call for the killing of outdoor cats. Earlier this week he delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of the Ohio Community Wildlife Cooperative, and tonight he’ll be in Baraboo, Wisconsin, presenting “Cats, Birds and You: Keeping Cats Indoors.”
This latest stop on Marra’s Extermination Nation tour is a homecoming of sorts. It was at the nearby University of Wisconsin–Madison, in the early 1990s, that the modern witch-hunt against outdoor cats began with the infamous Wisconsin Study. Using little more than cocktail napkin guesswork, UWM professor Stanley Temple and graduate student John Coleman “estimated” that outdoor cats killed up to 219 million birds in rural Wisconsin alone.  Although Marra’s “estimates” are significantly higher, his (flawed) methods—and motive—are striking similar to Temple’s.
(Fun fact: The two were among 10 authors—including Nico Daphiné, Marra’s former post-doc, who was forced to resign after she was found guilty of trying to poison cats—of a 2010 letter calling for conservation biologists to “counter trap-neuter-return.” )
Nearly eight years later—and faced with more pushback than he’d apparently expected—Marra’s still reworking his message for mainstream audiences. Look past the media-friendly rhetoric* and cowardly back-pedaling, though, and his call to action (just like Temple’s) is unchanged: the killing of cats on an unprecedented level. Read more
Perhaps the most alarming headline announcing the findings of an Australian study last week was from Newsweek: “Cats Kill One Million Birds Per Day Pushing Many Species to the Point of Extinction.” In fact, the research itself makes no mention of extinctions. Indeed, as the researchers themselves explain in the paper’s abstract, “it remains challenging to interpret this mortality tally in terms of population viability or conservation concern for Australian birds.” 
Challenging, in part, because the mortalities attributed to cats* account for only “about 3.5% of Australia’s terrestrial bird population.”1 Funny, there was no mention of this little detail in Newsweek piece—or in the phys.org article upon which it was apparently based.
What do you call an organization, staffed by (at most) three individuals, responsible for the deaths of at least 1,789 cats between January 2011 and September 2016? Well, if you’re Gail Mihocko, director and founder of Project Cat, you call it an “animal welfare organization dedicated to assisting felines in need in our local community.”
“Assistance” is an interesting way to put it, since, in this case, Mihocko’s involvement is almost always fatal. In fact, according to a news story published last month, Project Cat killed more than 11 times as many cats as the organization adopted out over the past year.
The fact that Mihocko is unapologetic about her “work” is unsettling enough, but the fact that she’s able to do it—for several years now—without running afoul of the law is truly puzzling. How can this be legal?
At this point, there are far more questions than answers. Read more
In 2001, the Amsterdam design studio Experimental Jetset created a T-shirt that soon made its way into design history books. Even more surprising, according to its creators: the T-shirt’s “dry, minimal design… has become a format, a standard, for other people to work with.” Intrigued—and probably more than a little flattered—the team at Experimental Jetset even compiled an online collection of the wide-ranging designs inspired by their project.
A key reason for the design’s success is its ability to act as a stylish, machine-washable secret handshake. “If you get the reference,” explained How magazine in 2012, “you and the T-shirt wearer are automatically cool with each other.”
So how many people will get the reference in this particular case? I have no idea.
One way to find out: get a T-shirt (or tank top, tote bag, or any number of other products now available in Vox Felina’s Society6 online shop) for yourself and see how people respond. Then, leave me a comment on this post.
If you’re reading this from Hillsborough County, Florida, I hope it’s from the safety of an underground bunker—while you await the movers’ arrival. You need to get out while you still can because—well, you know… rabid cats.
As local “investigative reporter” Steve Andrews put it in one of three melodramatic pieces on the subject, “It’s rabies roulette in Hillsborough County.” Actually, journalistic Jenga is more like it. But that’s Andrews in a nutshell: half used-car salesman, half ambulance-chaser. And, as he’s made clear through his previous “reporting,” also hell-bent on shutting down TNR efforts in the area.
Unfortunately, the local news media isn’t the only source of misinformation and scaremongering. Read more
Writing last week for Scientific American, Yale School of Medicine research fellow Jack Turban waded into the controversy surrounding cat ownership, Toxoplasma gondii, and the parasite’s alleged role in mental illness—asking (and answering) the question, “are cats really to blame for psychotic behavior?” As it turns out, not so much.*
“In the largest and best-controlled study to date, the researchers showed that those exposed to cats were at no increased risk of psychosis after controlling for a number of other variables (including ethnicity, social class, and dog ownership—to control for exposure to animal stool).”
For several years now, TNR opponents have blamed Toxoplasma gondii infection in California sea otters on outdoor cats, the idea being that the parasite is spread from cat feces into the soil and then flushed into the Pacific by way of runoff. From the start, it’s been a dubious argument—requiring believers to focus narrowly on specific data while ignoring a great deal more.
And the argument has only grown increasingly weak in recent years, as additional research findings have further questioned the role of domestic cats in sea otter infection. Perhaps most compelling of all are the results of the 2016 sea otter census, which estimates that the population along the California coast might be greater than it’s been in more than 100 years.
So how do TNR opponents reconcile these findings with their claims that outdoor cats pose a grave threat to the sea otters?
They don’t, of course.
Instead, they simply ignore the research—all the while telling anybody who will listen that they have science on their side. Read more
Sadly, it wasn’t terribly difficult to see where this story would lead. According to a May 4 post on Houston Audubon’s Facebook page, 395 birds were killed when they collided with the American National Building (Galveston’s tallest) in a storm the night before. “This is the largest event like this I have ever been a part of in over 10 years,” explained Josh Henderson, the Galveston Police supervisor who had the grim job of tallying the fatalities, in a Houston Chronicle story the next day.
And yet, it was only a matter of time (and not much of it) before the conversation shifted to… you guessed it: cats. Read more
If you missed the Orange County Vector Control District’s press release, announcing last year’s dramatic decrease in flea-borne typhus cases, you’re not alone. Apparently, the agency’s commitment to “inform and educate the public about the shared responsibility of vector control” is no match for their commitment to link the area’s typhus cases to outdoor cats almost exclusively.
So, while some of us think the most recent statistics are newsworthy, OCVCD probably sees them largely as a most inconvenient truth. How, for example, does the agency explain the significant decline in typhus cases over the same period Orange County Animal Care implemented its return-to-field program? OCVCD has alleged repeatedly that this program increases the risk to the public—but the evidence suggests otherwise.
Well, I suppose that’s why there’s no press release. Read more
Somebody needs to explain to the folks at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University the importance of managing expectations. According to the institution’s Facebook page, Peter Marra, who’s speaking this evening as part of its Town Square series, “will outline the evidence he and co-author Chris Santella have presented in their new book Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer.”
“He will discuss the scientific evidence confirming that free-ranging cats are killing birds and other animals by the billions and the devastating public health consequences of rabies and parasitic Toxoplasma passing from cats to humans at rising rates.”
Spoiler alert! Marra and Santella provide no such “evidence” in their book.
That’s not to say that Marra won’t have plenty to talk about of, course. Earlier this month, he ramped up his campaign of misinformation, scaremongering, and magical thinking with an appearance on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight in which he further misrepresented his junk science.
So, who knows what he’ll come up with tonight.
It’s more than a little troubling to see the Academy promote Marra’s witch-hunt, hosting him as part of a program “designed to engage and provide relevant educational content to the public on environmental issues.”
“Town Squares focus on critical global issues in environmental science by featuring prominent thought leaders and their findings on biodiversity, freshwater issues, climate change, and evolution. Environmental advocates, scientists, and community members come together for an opportunity to further their knowledge about environmental and sustainability matters through accurate, real-time scientific information.”
I don’t know about other events in the series, but I think it’s safe to say that many attendees of tonight’s talk will leave the venue less knowledgeable, not more.* On the other hand, if they’re looking for “real-time information,” Marra’s shown he’s more than willing to make up his “facts” on the fly.
* Even so, I’m sure Marra will have his supporters. Indeed, somewhere in the audience might be his former colleague, Nico Dauphiné, who left her prestigious post-doc position at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center after she was found guilty of attempted animal cruelty. Now Nicole Arcilla, she’s a post-doc researcher in Drexel’s Biodiversity, Earth, and Environmental Sciences department.
Nearly four years before the terms fake news and alternative facts made their way into common usage, there were Peter Marra’s mortality “estimates.” Developed at great expense to taxpayers, Marra’s computer-generated figures suggest that outdoor cats kill up to 4.0 billion birds annually in the 48 contiguous states.  Even without getting into the details, it should be obvious that the claim is simply nonsense—since the best estimates available indicate that there are only 3.2 billion birds in the continental U.S.
Nevertheless, with the publication of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer late last year, Marra doubled down on his “estimates,” making this tidy bit of fiction the centerpiece of his campaign of misinformation, scaremongering, and magical thinking.
All of that seems like a lifetime ago now—before Donald Trump became President, and, together with his largely inexperienced and woefully unprepared staff of cronies, plunged us into a Bizarro World. Up is down, black is white, right is wrong. Foreign policy is made and unmade in 140-character outbursts.
Not to be outdone, Marra’s stepped up his game—misrepresenting his own work (which, again, was junk science to begin with) and proposing a new theory of urban ecology. Read more