Tag: Humane Society

No, A Study Did Not Conclude Cats Kill 20 Billion Birds And Small Animals Yearly

Talk to birders, casual conservationists or anyone who says they’re worried about the ecological impact of cats on native bird and mammal populations, and without fail they’ll bring up The Study.

Yeah, that one: A 2013 study, published in Nature Communications, that claimed cats kill “billions” of prey animals each year in the U.S. alone — including 3.7 billion birds and up to 20 billion small mammals in the contiguous states.

What activists won’t acknowledge is the fact that there are fatal flaws in the research, flaws that have been repeated in a new study claiming cats kill 10 times as many small animals as wild predators.

Let’s break it down:

The researchers don’t actually know how many animals cats are responsible for killing. Both the 2013 Nature Communications study and the 2020 Animal Conservation study rely on owner questionnaires to estimate the number of animals pet cats kill outdoors and to assign numerical scores to their cats’ “hunting skills.” In other words, the study authors are relying on people who have no idea what their cats are doing outside to give them supposedly accurate figures on how many birds, rabbits and reptiles little Fluffy and Socks kill every year. As for people evaluating the hunting skills of their cats, how exactly do they do that? Do they consult nonexistent scoreboards? Do they find a dead mouse or two and conclude that Socks is the GOAT hunter?

The people who took the surveys were self-selected. These aren’t random samples. The questionnaires were given to people who actively volunteered to participate in the studies.

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Friend or snack?

 

 

  • In both cases, researchers supplemented their questionnaire data with estimates of “additional” animals killed by cats. Or to put it bluntly, the research teams invented numbers and plugged them in. They’ll claim they arrived at those numbers via analysis, but again, these are studies that rely on owner questionnaires for the bulk of the predation data. Any conclusions drawn from that data are automatically suspect.
  • The 2013 study was centered around a meta-analysis of earlier studies, not fresh data. For the numbers they didn’t have, researchers derived figures from older published studies. For example, they added billions of “kills” to the tally and attributed those phantom kills to “unowned cats.” The problem? No one knows exactly how many stray and feral cats roam America’s streets and countrysides, a fact the research team admitted in the 2013 study: “no empirically driven estimate of un-owned cat abundance exists for the contiguous U.S.,” they wrote.
  • The best estimates claim between 20 million and 120 million feral and stray cats live in the contiguous U.S. That’s a spread of 100 million! How can a research team estimate how many prey animals are killed by cats when they can’t even get a fix on the cat population? The numbers matter: If there are only 20 million ferals and strays, each of them would have to kill more than 1,000 animals a year to account for the study estimates.
  • Headlines trumpeting the 2020 study say it’s based on GPS data, but that’s only partially true. Yes, the team used GPS data from a small number of cats belonging to self-selected study participants, but that data tells them nothing about how many animals those cats are killing. The GPS data only indicates where cats go when they wander, not what they do. In this study, as in the last, researchers relied on questionnaires, which in turn assumes cat owners have exceptional memories and can account for everything their furry friends do outdoors when no one’s watching them.

The stakes are high, as NPR noted in a story about the 2013 study: The resulting headlines are repeated as gospel in newspapers across the country and on countless news sites, which in turn influences how people feel about cats. They influence politicians and proposed laws as well, with several countries looking to ban outdoor cats.

Buddy's claws
One cat who has zero kills: “I am NOT an inept hunter! You don’t want to tangle with these talons, bro.”

Nuance, such as the 2013 study’s admission that an unknowable number of animals are killed by “collisions with man-made structures, vehicles [and] poisoning,” is usually left out of those stories.

After all, no one’s seriously proposing an end to the automobile industry despite studies claiming untold billions of animals die as roadkill annually.

A quick Google search turns up hundreds of articles with breathless headlines like To Save Birds, Should We Kill Off Cats?, The Moral Cost of Cats, and Cat Owners Turn Blind Eye To Pets’ Violence.  There are alarmist books, too, like the hysterically-named Cat Wars: The Consequences of a Cuddly Killer.

In some Australian territories, authorities have open bounties offering $10 for the scalps of adult cats and $5 for the scalps of kittens. Is this what we’ve come to? Killing baby animals based on hysteria over bunk science?

“It’s virtually impossible to determine how many cats live outside, or how many spend some portion of the day outside,” Wayne Pacelle, former president of the Humane Society of the United States, told NPR at the time. The scientists “have thrown out a provocative number for cat predation totals, and their piece has been published in a highly credible publication, but they admit the study has many deficiencies. We don’t quarrel with the conclusion that the impact is big, but the numbers are informed guesswork.”

And that’s the important thing here: Instead of calling for a mass culling of cats based on wild estimates of their environmental impact, we should be working cooperatively on solutions to curb their opportunities to hunt, starting with simple measures like keeping cats indoors.

We don’t need another study with wild estimates of feline impact on small wildlife. What we need are smart plans and the will to implement them as a society.

(First image credit Earth.com. Second image credit CatsAndBirds.ca. Third photo is Buddy, the Inept Hunter.)

 

The Mixed Legacy of CC the Cloned Cat

Like Dolly the sheep, CC the cat’s arrival into this world was accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements, grave concerns about man’s hubris at playing God and warnings that human clones wouldn’t be far behind.

At the time cloning was revolutionary, something that was only supposed to exist in science fiction movies. Most people were uneasy with it, and much of the public debate centered around ethical concerns.

It was 2001: The world had just gotten over the Y2K scare, the Sept. 11 attacks and an abundance of turn-of-the-century, end-of-the-world prophesies. When people thought of cloning, they pictured tyrannosauruses rampaging through Jurassic Park and Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character lecturing the park’s proprietors on playing with the awesome power of nature.

CC passed away on March 4, 2020 at 18 years old — a full life by feline standards. The real consequences of her existence were less dramatic than predicted, but ultimately disappointing.

CC the Cat
CC with her surrogate mother, Annie. Credit: Texas A&M

Copy Cat’s birth didn’t herald an age of human cloning, but it did open the door to widespread animal cloning — including, as of last year, non-human primates — and eventually, to pet cloning.

A Mixed Legacy

Mark Westhusin, a scientist who was part of the team that successfully cloned CC, sees it as progress.

“CC’s passing makes me reflect on my own life as much as hers,” Westhusin said Wednesday. “Cloning now is becoming so common, but it was incredible when it was beginning. Our work with CC was an important seed to plant to keep the science and the ideas and imagination moving forward.”

CC lived as any typical house cat would, according to Shirley and Duane Kraemer, who adopted the famous feline. Duane Kraemer was also part of the research team involved in CC’s cloning.

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Kraemer with CC. Credit: The Eagle (Bryan, Texas)

When Barbra Streisand admitted she had her dog cloned in 2017, she responded to the backlash by writing an editorial in the New York Times, defending cloning as a way to get over the heartbreak of losing a pet.

There are now several genetics companies that offer pet-cloning services for people who want to bring their dear dogs and cats back to life.

“The human–animal bond is a pretty strong thing,” said Kerry Ryan, a veterinarian who works for pet cloning firm Viagen. “Our pets truly are a part of the family, and people want to have a piece of their pets around forever.”

Clones, But Not Your Real Pets

Except, of course, they really aren’t bringing cats and dogs back to life, and the animals won’t be around forever. Viagen’s customers get a genetic copy, but that doesn’t mean the clone will look or even act the same.

“It can be a genetically identical animal that can come out looking differently than the animal that you had,” veterinarian Katy Nelson told WTOP in 2018.

To the people who can afford dropping between $25,000 and $50,000 to clone their cats and dogs, it doesn’t seem to matter that both nature and nurture will ensure differences.

Pet cloning has also drawn the ire of animal welfare activists and major organizations like the Humane Society and SPCA, who point out that every cloned cat or dog means one less home for strays in shelters.

The Humane Society “opposes cloning of any animals for commercial purposes due to major animal welfare concerns,” HSUS’s Vicki Katrinak told National Geographic. “Companies that offer to clone pets profit off of distraught pet lovers by falsely promising a replica of a beloved pet. With millions of deserving dogs and cats in need of a home, pet cloning is completely unnecessary.”

False Starts, Gene Splicing and Clone Experimentation

Then there’s the truly dark side of cloning.

Each cloning attempt involves implanting eggs into several surrogate cat (or dog) moms, and no one wants to know what happens to the other clones, whether or not they make it to term. There’s no law requiring the companies to disclose the fate of those animals, so for now it remains a mystery.

Not all clones end up in loving homes, either. The lucky handful do, but others are birthed into the world to be experimented on, like a quintet of monkeys cloned by scientists in China.

Cloned Monkeys from China
Scientists edited the DNA of these monkeys to remove a gene that regulates sleep, resulting in depression and anxiety, among other problems. Three of the five monkeys pictured here are sucking their thumbs, which is a sign of stress when primate infants are taken from their mothers. Credit: Institute of Neuroscience, Shanghai

The scientists who brought the monkeys to life also edited their genes, “cutting out a gene involved in regulating the sleep/wake cycle.” A 2019 story on Phys.org explained the consequences:

“The gene removal created multiple effects in edited monkeys, such as reduced sleep time, increased movement during the night, changed blood hormone levels, increased anxiety and depression, and some schizophrenia-like behaviors.”

Which was precisely the point: The research team wanted to study the unintended consequences of gene-editing on animals to learn more about how it could impact humans.

To be sure, none of this is Copy Cat’s fault.

The famous cat, who was delivered by a surrogate mother, lived for 18 years, a year or two more than the average house cat. She spent the remainder of her days as a typical house cat, albeit one whose vet visits and blood work were carefully pored over as geneticists confirmed she was as healthy as any other kitty.

But as science barrels forward and labs — many of them in countries with no regulations — are bringing cloned animals into this world, we should think about the consequences for animals and the human race.

Chinese Government to Citizens: ‘Deal With’ Your Pets, Or We Will

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a government with no respect for any kind of life — human or animal — would threaten the mass extermination of cats and dogs.

It’s par for the course in China, where authorities in dozens of cities and provinces are urging people to “deal with” their pets in the wake of the Coronavirus threat — or the government will, media reports say.

The warnings have been issued in Wuhan, the epicenter of the Coronavirus, as well as Shanxi, Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Hebei and Shanghai, according to the Humane Society International.

Yet there’s no evidence the virus has been transmitted by domesticated pets like cats and dogs, and no evidence those animals can catch it from humans, experts say.

In Wuhan, residents have been told to keep their pets indoors, and warned that any cats or dogs spotted outdoors will be “killed and buried on the spot,” the UK’s Metro reported.

But experts say it’s the government’s fault that the virus jumped from wild animals to humans in the first place. China has refused to shut down so-called “wet markets,” where live animals are sold next to the carcasses of recently-slaughtered animals, despite the fact that SARS and other viruses originated from those markets.

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A Chinese wet market. Credit: Nikkei

Officials believe the Coronavirus originated at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, one of many “wet markets” described as “filthy, crowded places where animals are displayed alive in small cages” and “are often slaughtered on site.”

China has been “mired in long-held beliefs about the benefits of eating exotic and often endangered animals for good health,” the Humane Society said in a statement, referring to traditional Chinese “medicine” and other folk practices that use animal parts in ineffective and dangerous tonics and elixirs.

In addition to creating the circumstances for viruses to jump from wild animals to humans, the illegal wildlife trade has pushed animals like tigers and pangolins to the brink of extinction.

“Chinese society is boiling with anger at wildlife policy failures,” said the Humane Society International’s China policy specialist, Peter Li. “Social media is full of posts condemning the refusal to shut down the wildlife markets. This is the worst Chinese New Year in China’s recent history.”

Some Jerk Stole the Baby Yoda Cat

Two weeks after a sickly stray named Joy was rescued off the streets, someone stole the still-ailing animal from the local Humane Society.

Thanks to her resemblance to the Internet-breaking Star Wars character, Joy and her story went viral, with kind donors opening up their wallets to help pay for the kitty’s veterinary bills. Per New York’s ABC affiliate:

A North Carolina woman found Joy with a large neck wound and an upper respiratory tract infection in mid-December. The woman asked Humane Society of Rowan County for help, and one of the non-profit’s veterinarians started treating Joy for her injuries. In the meantime, Joy captured the hearts of internet users for her resemblance to “The Child,” the breakout star from the “Star Wars: The Mandalorian” series.

In six days, Facebook users donated over $1,250 to help Humane Society of Rowan County pay for Joy’s medical bills.

But the story didn’t just attract the attention of the kind-hearted, and a few days ago someone made off with the viral feline after claiming Joy was their long-lost pet, according to the Humane Society of Rowan County.

Baby Yoda
A Star Wars fan who couldn’t wait to hand his or her money to Disney for a Baby Yoda doll decided to steal a cat who bears a resemblance to the character instead.

Making matters worse, Joy wasn’t ready for her forever home yet, and was supposed to remain under veterinary care and supervision while the Humane Society took applications from potential adopters.

It is with heavy hearts that we announce that Joy is no longer in our care. Joy was released without our knowledge or consent to a person claiming ownership.

It is likely that HSRC will still be responsible for Joy’s vet bills.

We wish we could provide more details but are unable to at this time. We pray that Joy, still with unhealed wounds and not fully recovered, will be given proper medical care and make a full recovery.

Return the cat, nerd! And while you’re at it, consider switching your allegiance to a decidedly more feline-friendly science fiction franchise. You’ll live long and prosper! 🙂