More Wildlife will be Killed, Says Bird Conservation Group, if Prince Georges Cat Bill Passes

Cat with American Coot by Debi Shearwater
Cat with American Coot by Debi Shearwater

(Washington, D.C., June 27, 2012) American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has called on the Prince Georges County Council of Maryland to oppose a new bill that would exempt ear tipped cats from capture by animal control. If any were captured by accident, they would need to be returned to where they were picked up.

In a June 21 letter to the County Council regarding CB-41-202, the Ear Tipped Cats bill, ABC says that feral and free roaming cats, regardless of whether they are ear-tipped, pose a serious threat to birds and other wildlife.

“Numerous published, scientific studies have shown that outdoor cats, even well-fed ones, kill hundreds of millions of wild birds and other animals each year in the U.S., including endangered species. Birds that nest or feed on the ground are especially vulnerable to cat attacks,” said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy for ABC.

The ABC letter says that feral cat programs that establish feral cat colonies are not humane to the cats or wildlife. Free-roaming cats are in constant danger of being hit by cars, contracting diseases and parasites, or being attacked by other animals or people. This is why feral cats have about one-third to one-fifth of the life span of indoor, owned cats. The National Association of Public Health Veterinarians, The Wildlife Society, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have joined ABC in opposing TNR programs.

Cats can transmit diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, and cat scratch fever to humans. In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared that cats are the top carrier of rabies in domestic animals.

For even the best run colony, practitioners will admit that not all of the cats are trapped for vaccination, and the cat food left out for them attracts more cats. Colonies often become dumping grounds for unwanted pets, thus continuing the inhumane cycle.

In addition, federal, state, and local governments have responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to conserve birds, and must also carry out their paramount mandate of protecting public health. Failing to do so can result in legal penalties and civil liability.

ABC suggests instead that Prince Georges County enact mandatory licensing programs where the fees collected can fund programs to help find homes for the unwanted pets and educate pet owners about keeping their cats indoors.

A study conducted in the Washington, DC area and announced a year ago on the effects of urbanization on wildlife that tracked the early lives of gray catbirds in three DC suburbs found that outdoor cats were the number one source of known predation on the young birds. The study by Dr. Peter Marra and Dr. Thomas Ryder of The Smithsonian Institution and Ms. Anne L. Balogh of Towson University, published in the January 2011 edition of the Journal of Ornithology, specifically found that almost 80 percent of the catbird mortality in the study was from predation and that cats were the source of almost half of the known predation.