Thursday, 28 March 2013

Killing feral cats

The recent National Geographic recently published an online discussion about "solving the feral cat problem".  They highlighted a statement made by a former Audubon freelance editor promoting murdering all the wild cats.  It centres around the painful awareness by so many about the numbers of birds killed by "catus" domesticus.

This narrow focus fails to recognize the value of cats.  If all the feral cats were suddenly to disappear by any means, we would be overrun by with mice, rats and other rodents which are their preferred food.  

We live on an acreage more than 26 km from the nearest small town.  Before we acquired a house cat and two garage cats, there were mice running in the ceiling above our bed.  We'd find mouse droppings in the laundry room and even in the pantry!  Having one house cat wasn't enough.  The two garage cats catch the mice as they try to enter.  

The garage cats go out in the morning when the dog is let out.  We put them in again and feed them when the bird feeders are filled.  They spend the rest of the day going in and out - in warmer weather they'll be outside longer.  Birds are very difficult for cats to catch - in cold weather they won't even try - they have to devote enormous energy to endless patient stalking.  Our cats spend hours "tracking" birds and invariably eventually give up and find other amusement.  In the three years that we've had garage cats, we have found evidence of kills only twice.  Our cats stay close to the house, glued to watching their reality T-V, in the sun and sometimes sheltered by the house.  

As the snow disappears, there will be oodles of ground animals, leaves will come out on the trees and the cats won't be interested in climbing.  We think that our windows are a greater hazard to the birds than the cats - if hitting the window doesn't kill the bird, they become stunned and helpless on the ground.  It is actually surprising that we have found only two bundles of coarse wing feathers around the gardens, deck and walkways.

If the cities' feral cats were provided with food, they would continue to hunt their favourite delicacies, the rodents, and largely leave the birds alone.  If they are provided with food, we'd find little evidence of kills.  My recommendation doesn't mean that they should have a balanced diet but rather that they should be fed from restaurant waste, the amount of edible food thrown out by restaurants would be re-cycled!  What is not to like about this plan.

Disclaimer:  I am not opposed to catch, neuter, release programs which I think make a favourable impact on the populations - not only does do the numbers decrease but the remainder look healthier.  Those really skinny females with dugs hanging to the ground look so pitiful desperately hunting for their nursing babies.  You just know that their hormones have forced them to breed repeatedly - unlike housecats, a feral cat has an average lifespan of 3 years. A female will have produced at least 4 litters of 2 - 6 (sometimes more) kittens.  As a farm girl, our family had a cat population that was constantly growing in spite of my parents culling and barnyard life.  One year, a disease spread through our grossly overblown population of 37 cats.  We were all traumatized by it and resolved never to permit that to happen again.  We employed every tool - neutering males, drowning kittens, the occasional "lead poisoning", cyanide, carbon monoxide.  Cats cannot control their own population, like rabbits they increase exponentially.  No one ever considered becoming "catless" - we knew the value of cats.  If we had a barn, we'd have a barn cat.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

"Damned Nations"

Damned Nations - Greed, guns, armies and aid.”

This book is chaotic - it is written by a physician, Samantha Nutt, MD who has been working in the international fora for the last couple of decades.  It is a public debriefing and like one, it rambles a bit. Governments, aid organizations, private corporations and well-meaning individuals are all at fault in one way or another - and maybe all with just cause.  A few glimmers of hope trail through the narrative but become buried like her friend, Aquila, in some unnamed desert.

People are being killed, women are being raped, children are taught to kill or starve, and weapons manufacturers are only too happy with their ill-gotten gains. Aid undercuts local entrepreneurs and farmers - but it also tends to be initiated by surplus in the donor countries. Even entrepreneurial do-gooders like Madonna or Oprah find out the hard way that what they think they are doing isn't what is actually happening.

What a dismal world!

Samantha Nutt leaves no stones unturned. She doesn't hide from her own naivety, her own embarrassments or her frailty. This is her story, her story of international involvement, her experiences - what she has seen and done - and, as a narrative, it is a easy two-day read.  But it will stay with you.

(She forced me to remember the people with whom I have worked in Kurdistan, in Pakistan and in the Philippines. My work is entirely different - I am an educator - but there is a synergism. I could not do what she is doing - and perhaps she cannot do what I do - but both of these - and more - are needed if we are going to change this world's political agenda.)

The last chapter of Damned Nations is a gem. “A Just Cause” sets the scene for optimism. While describing activities and actions that further peace in the world, Sam weaves together little vignettes of successful ventures. To the solutions - narrow the gender gap and end poverty - she adds a third - “legal aid” illustrating the importance of having a due process all the way up to the International Court of Justice. Then she devotes a mere four pages to “here's what you should do” - and four pages is all she needs. She's laid the foundation.

Samanth Nutt's a small woman, she says (maybe we'll meet someday and compare sizes) but she is punching way above her class!