The Greatest Conservation Success Story You’ve Never Heard Of

“From a conservation ecology perspective, the most desirable solution seems clear—remove all free-ranging cats from the landscape by any means necessary.”

Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer

Hunters using 12-gauge shotguns killed 809 cats over three “hunting seasons” in 1986–1989 (photo by Kevin Language).


Roughly the size of Tampa, Florida, or Salt Lake City, Utah, Marion Island lies approximately 1,325 miles southeast of Cape Town, in the Indian Ocean. It is the largest island from which cats have been successfully eradicated, a campaign spanning more than 19 years during which an estimated 4,000–5,000 cats were killed. No cat has been seen there since July 1991 [1].

Nearly 33 years later, plans are underway for a new eradication campaign—this time to exterminate the island’s mice. Read more

Lethal removal of cats backfires (again)

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” —Abraham Maslow

Just three months after an intensive culling effort, conservationists observed no difference in the area’s population of cats. Nevertheless, they describe their campaign as “effective,” arguing that lethal methods could be improved only if they were more “intense and continuous.”

Non-lethal methods, it seems, never occurred to them. Read more

“Island Conservation” wins creative writing award

In September 2019, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs awarded Island Conservation $244,756 “to implement a showcase eco-system rehabilitation and restoration project in the UNESCO-designated Rock Island Southern Lagoon of Palau,” an archipelago of nearly 450 small islands in the western Pacific. The focus of the project was to be “removing invasive rats from the Ngemelis Island complex and promote the recovery of seabird populations.”

Seven months later, the non-profit appealed to OIA for nearly a quarter-million dollars more, this time to “remove” cats from Palau’s Ulong Island. One would expect such a request to be a detailed account explaining, among other things, why, before even getting underway, their original project had so expanded in its scope as to justify a budget twice the size of the original.

Apparently, though, such rigor is unnecessary—perhaps even unwelcome—at OIA. Instead, a little creativity seems to be the key to winning over the agency’s decision-makers. Less than one month after receiving the request, the agency awarded Island Conservation $239,922 “to eradicate feral cats in the Ulong Island area of the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon.”

Read more

The “Need” for More Killing?

The press is making it out that I am like Josef Mengele, but shelters already do this now. Last year millions of animals were euthanized because we don’t have the resources to take care of them.”

—Peter Marra, co-author of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, in a recent interview with National Geographic

Even before Cat Wars was officially released (in print, anyhow), the pushback had begun. Among the more notable examples were Marc Bekoff’s blistering critique in Psychology Today and Gwen Cooper’s smackdown on the Hi Homer! blog (the likely source for that Mengele reference). More recently, Barbara J. King offered a much more tempered response on NPR’s Cosmos & Culture blog.

“It’s not a war against cats that we need. We should slow down, critically review the assumptions that underpin the science, and resist panicky, dire recommendations.”

All the while, Marra’s been trying to back away from his inflammatory rhetoric—witness the National Geographic piece, for example, followed by a Q&A with VICE.

One wonders: given the fact that he’s promoting the killing of this country’s most popular pet—on a scale that would dwarf anything this country’s seen—what did he expect? Read more

The Whac-A-Mole Approach to Conservation

Marion Island, home to the greatest cat eradication “success story” is now apparently overrun with “killer mice.”

Hunting for cats on Marion Island. Source: unknown. (Indeed, it’s not even clear that this is truly Marion Island, although that’s certainly implied from the accompanying news story.)

It took 19 years to exterminate approximately 2,200 cats from barren, uninhabited Marion Island, which is roughly the size of Omaha, Nebraska, and located in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean. The methods employed included poisoning, hunting and trapping, dogs, and the panleukopenia virus (i.e., feline distemper). [1, 2]

In 1991, eradication of cats from Marion Island was complete. [2] Twenty-fours years later, it remains the largest island from which cats have been successfully eradicated.

But according to a news report published last weekend, “killer mice” have overrun the island, “which was declared a Special Nature Reserve in 1995,” and are “eating rare and endangered seabirds.”

As one of my colleagues often says, never bet against irony. Read more

Prank Culls

Recent research from Australia finds that lethal methods might actually backfire, increasing an area’s population of free-roaming cats.

While evidence of TNR’s effectiveness continues to mount, the case for the “traditional” approach to community cat management (i.e., complaint-driven impoundment typically resulting in death) grows increasingly indefensible. Of course, the very fact that the debate over “the feral cat problem” persists illustrates the point: if trap-and-kill worked, the evidence would be plentiful by now, and the debate would have ended.

Nevertheless, there are those who cling desperately and inexplicably to the perverse hope that we might be able to kill our way to a day when there are simply no more outdoor cats (including pets). A recently published Australian study, however, challenges such wishful thinking with unusually compelling findings.

Indeed, the researchers involved found that the “low-level culling of feral cats” [1] led not to a population decrease, but an increase in their numbers. And, because the number of cats being trapped decreased over time, it appeared the lethal efforts were actually effective.

Don’t expect a press release from the American Bird Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, or any of the other organizations that continue to promote the senseless killing of outdoor cats. Read more