Tag: wildlife conservation

Why Are UK Cat Owners So Intent On Allowing Their Cats To Run Free?

Jinx the cat was so grateful to UK couple Martin Rosinski and Michelle Bowyer for giving her a home that she decided to bring them a gift.

“The first time I was working at home, I heard Michelle making a commotion because Jinx had come in with a mouse and dumped it on the carpet in front of her as a ‘thank you’. That’s their way of expressing love. You can’t tell her off, so we thanked her a lot for it and took it away from her,” Rosinski said.

“Then this started happening more and more often to the point where we would be woken up at 2 a.m. as Jinx would meow loudly and announce, ‘Hey I have a gift. If we didn’t get to her fast enough she would decide to eat it herself, which would involve piles of mouse parts being smeared into the carpet. This was happening at 2 a.m., then again at 4 a.m. on many nights and we’d not get any sleep having to deal with this. Her record was four in one night – that night was a frenzy of three mice and one bird. It was something that was a real cause of stress.”

The solution is pretty simple, right? Keep Jinx inside.

The former stray won’t like it at first. There will be an adjustment period when the meowing will be seriously annoying. But it’s better than allowing your cat to play Predator at night and waking up to find your cat sitting on your chest, proudly presenting a twitching mouse to you.

Rosinski and Bowyer didn’t take Jinx inside.

Instead they created a bespoke intelligent cat flap that allows Jinx to come and go as she pleases, but won’t open if she’s carrying prey. They both have backgrounds in tech: he’s a researcher who also tinkers with software and hardware, and she’s a web developer.

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Despite being domesticated, cats retain their predatory instincts and many will kill small mammals and birds if allowed to wander on their own outdoors. Credit: Aleksandr Gorlov/Pexels

Their system, OnlyCat, uses a camera and an algorithm to determine if Jinx is carrying something in her mouth. If she is, the cat flap won’t grant her access, and Bowyer and Rosinski will get a text informing them Jinx has been up to her hi-jinx again, along with a photo of her entry attempt.

The OnlyCat prototype has prevented Jinx from bringing in 42 prey animals since June of 2021, the couple said. OnlyCat may prevent her from bringing her prey inside, but it hasn’t dissuaded her from killing.

“Two months ago I think something clicked and she realized, ‘I can’t bring these home. It’s just not going to work,’” Rosinski told the UK’s South West News Service. “She still catches them outside but she’s learned that there’s no point even trying to bring them home, which is a relief.”

The couple developed the OnlyCat into a full product, which launches on Aug. 16 at £499. (A little more than $600 USD.) Their site says the retail version of the flap has worked 100 percent of the time in tests, and the developers believe “99%+ accuracy should be achievable for everyone.”

It’s similar to a device built by Amazon engineer Ben Hamm which uses DeepLens, an AI-enabled camera system, and Sagemaker, a software tool for training machine-learning algorithms, to determine if cats are carrying prey.

Hamm’s version, which he created for his cat Metric in 2019, initiates a 15-minute lockout timer if Metric tries to enter while carrying a kill, and automatically sends a donation to the National Audubon Society, which protects birds and their habitats. The algorithm was trained using tens of thousands of images of cats approaching normally, and with prey in their mouths. So far, Hamm hasn’t developed a retail version of his AI-enabled cat flap.

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The feline predatory drive is instinctual. Indoor cats can exercise that drive with wand toy games and by chasing laser pointers. Credit: Aleksandr Nadyojin/Pexels

We don’t think there’s any one way to raise cats, and it’s obvious there are different cat cultures in various countries.

Nevertheless, seven out of 10 cat owners in the UK allow their cats to roam free, and anecdotes like the ones about Jinx, with her multiple kills a night habit, draw the ire of birders and conservationists.

Peter Marra is the author of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences Of A Cuddly Killer and co-author of many of the leading studies claiming cats are the primary threat to bird populations. He’s currently making the media rounds and endorsing strict policies — many of them in enacted in response to his studies — that would make it illegal to allow cats outdoors.

The Australian government is airdropping poisoned sausages by the ton in a plan to cull as many as two million cats, a town in Germany tried to ban outdoor cats, a US politician recently suggested starting a “hunting season” for feral and stray felines, and some people — including wildlife biologists and conservationists — have gone vigilante and convinced themselves they’re doing good by randomly picking off cats with shotguns and poisoning feeding stations for strays.

Maybe it’s time for more people to reconsider allowing their cats to roam free. Like putting a cat on a diet or trying to break a bad habit, there’ll be loud and annoying protests in meow, and it’ll get worse before it gets better, but eventually cats always adjust to changes if given long enough.

As domesticated animals they don’t have a natural habitat anymore, and they don’t actually need to be outside. It’s entirely possible to keep things fun and interesting for the furry little guys, and that’s on us. All that’s required is our time, attention and affection. Interactive play time. Toys that can keep a cat occupied by herself. Catnip. Condos and tunnels. Window perches. Cat TV on Youtube. Simple things to play with, like plastic bottle rings, crinkled tin foil and cardboard boxes.

We don’t think anyone should be required to keep their cats indoors, and that’s the point. We have an opportunity to meet conservationists halfway and make a real effort to reduce feline impact on small wildlife. If we don’t, eventually we’ll be forced to comply by laws that’ll be draconian compared to the voluntary measures we could have taken to prevent the government from getting involved.

Letting Your Cat Outside Could Cost You $50k In This German Town

Elected leaders in Walldorf, Germany, are worried about the crested lark — so much so that they’ve decreed cats must be kept inside, with prohibitively painful fines for anyone whose cat harms one of the birds.

According to the decree, anyone who allows their cat(s) to roam outside from now until August will be fined €500, which is about $527. But if a cat kills or injures one of the European songbirds, Walldorf’s local government will fine the cat’s caretaker up to €50,000, almost $53,000 in USD.

That’s an eye-watering amount of money, especially in light of the fact that the crested lark is listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Experts say humans, not cats, are the biggest threat to the bird.

Officials in Walldorf — a town of about 15,000 people more than 600 kilometers southwest of Berlin — cited the same thoroughly-debunked studies that claim cats kill some 25 billion birds and small mammals annually in the US alone. They say they’re worried because the crested lark nests on the ground, making the birds, their eggs and their chicks particularly vulnerable to predators like domestic cats.

If you’re skeptical that local government officials — a mayor and town councilmen, essentially — are qualified to legislate on matters of conservation, you’re not alone. The decree has been met with pushback from animal rights advocates and feline fans.

“Suddenly preventing cats that are used to going outside from doing so, means immense restrictions and stress for the animals,” German animal welfare group Deutscher Tierschutzbund wrote in a statement. “The negative influence of cats on the population of songbirds is in any case controversial and, to our knowledge, has not yet been proven for the crested lark in Walldorf.”

And that cuts to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it? Like politicians in Australia and parts of the US, Walldorf’s elected leaders aren’t making decisions based on studies or reliable information. They’re taking action based on emotion and deeply flawed meta-analyses that aren’t even applicable to Europe.

We’ve always taken the position here at PITB that cats are much better off indoors. They’re domesticated animals, meaning if they have a “natural habitat” it’s human living rooms. They live much longer, healthier lives indoors and can be happy and fulfilled with a little effort on the part of their humans.

But we also believe decisions impacting living creatures should be based on real information gathered by people who don’t have an agenda. The landmark Washington, D.C. Cat Count is a great example, with birders, conservationists and cat lovers working together to complete an accurate census of domestic felines within city limits.

Now that they’ve established how many cats live in D.C. (about 200,000) and how many are truly feral without anyone caring for them (about 3,000), they can enact sensible solutions that are much more likely to successfully protect wildlife and cats without hysteria, agendas or inhuman proposals like enacting “cat hunting season” (as one US politician proposed), killing millions of cats with poisoned sausages (as Australia has done), or outright gunning cats down, as a rogue conservationist in California’s Bay Area did last year.

Cats are thinking, feeling animals. They deserve better than becoming the victims of human policies based on ignorance.

Bud’s Book Club: The Man-Eaters of Kumaon & The Game of Rat and Dragon

Welcome to the inaugural post of Buddy’s Book Club, where we’ll read stories about cats and stories involving cats!

We’re going to start things off easy with a classic short story of the cat canon, which is available for free online via Project Gutenberg, and a seminal book about big cats from a man whose name is indelibly linked with them.

The Game of Rat and Dragon (1954) by Cordwainer Smith

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Read it here for free from Project Gutenberg, a collaborative effort to create a digital archive of important cultural literary works that have fallen into the public domain. For those unfamiliar with Project Gutenberg, it’s completely above-board, legal and safe for your devices, and the story opens in plain HTML with illustrations included as image files. You can read the story in a browser or download it onto a reading device, tablet or phone.

The Game of Rat and Dragon first appeared, as so much short fiction of the era did, in a digest. Although Smith had penned it the year before, the story was published in Galaxy Science Fiction’s October 1955 issue and became an instant classic among cat-lovers and science fiction aficionados. (There is considerable overlap between the two, not surprisingly: Introverts whose imaginations run wild when they look to the stars tend to have many of the same personality traits as people who prefer the more sublime antics of cats.)

The Game of Rat and Dragon imagines a far future in which humanity has become a star-faring culture, meaning we’ve conquered interstellar flight and have begun to colonize planets in star systems other than our own.

There is, of course, a problem. The dark, lonely void between stars isn’t as empty as we thought it was, and is inhabited by invisible (to the human eye), inscrutable, inexorable entities eventually dubbed “dragons.”

When dragons attack they leave only death and insanity in their wake, putting the entire idea of interstellar travel at risk. Imagine if there was a not-insignificant chance of your passenger jet being attacked by impervious creatures every time you hopped on a plane. It wouldn’t be long before the entire air industry collapsed and the world suddenly became a much bigger place, with other continents unreachable by air.

Who can help humans with this problem? Cats, of course! To say more would be to spoil the fun. Meow!

Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944) by Jim Corbett

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Available as an ebook for 99 cents from Barnes and Noble.

Jim Corbett was a sportsman, the son of a government official in the British Raj who was raised in India’s jungles and came to know them intimately. He’s best remembered as the fearless hunter who finally brought down the infamous Champawat tigress, who officially claimed 436 lives over a years-long rampage as a man-eater, and likely many more that went unrecorded.

To understand the gravity of Corbett’s accomplishments, it’s necessary to understand the effect of a man-eater on rural India. The people living in India’s tiny villages are subsistence farmers. If they don’t farm, they don’t eat.

But when a man-eater as dangerous as the Champawat tigress claims an area as its hunting grounds, everything grinds to a halt: Farmers refuse to tend their fields, villagers disappear behind locked doors, and a simple walk to a neighboring village becomes an impossibility unless escorted by a group of two dozen or more armed men. Even then it’s a risk, for as Corbett notes, when tigers become man-eaters they have no fear of humans and will kill people in broad daylight, even when they’re in groups.

And yet for all their power and predatory instincts, tigers are never deliberately cruel and don’t harm humans willingly. Tigers become man-eaters by unfortunate circumstance, usually due to negligence or stupidity on the part of humans.

The Champawat tigress, for example, was like any other big cat until a human hunter took aim and shot her in the mouth, destroying one lower canine completely and shattering another. The tiger could no longer take down her usual prey, or at least not without serious difficulty. At some point — perhaps after encountering the body of a person it did not kill — the tigress realized she could survive on human flesh.

If that hadn’t happened, those 436-plus souls wouldn’t have been lost, an entire region wouldn’t have been brought to its knees, and the tigress would have continued life as normal.

The vast majority of the time, tigers are content to let humans be.

“I think of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who, while working in the forests or cutting grass or collecting dry sticks, pass day after day close to where tigers are lying up and who, when they return safely to their homes, do not even know that they have been under the observation of this so called ‘cruel’ and ‘bloodthirsty’ animal,” Corbett writes.

Despite his reputation as the man to enlist when a man-eater terrorized a region, Corbett saw the way things were trending a century ago, and begged people to let the big cats live undisturbed.

“A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage,” he wrote, “and that when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support — India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.”

Corbett would undoubtedly be deeply disturbed by the situation today, with only some 4,000 wild tigers remaining in the entire world, and the glorious species mostly reduced to spending life in captivity, constantly sedated so that idiots can pay to take selfies with them.

The Man-Eaters of Kumaon follows Corbett on 10 hunts of man-eating tigers and leopards. It’s also a story of life in the British Raj, rural life in India, Corbett’s jungle adventures, his love for his loyal hunting dog and his turn toward conservation.

Schedule:

We can do the short story in a week, yeah? Let’s shoot for one week for The Game of Rat and Dragon, and two weeks for The Man-Eaters of Kumaon. We’ll adjourn and discuss in follow-up posts. Happy reading!

Cat Defends His Territory From An Elephant In Thailand

So this story about a cat fearlessly staring down an elephant in Thailand has gone viral, and the photo is admittedly pretty incredible. Bud would’ve soiled himself and bolted, but this cat is truly brave.

“This is my territorah!” we imagine the cat declaring. “Find your own trees!”

The cat’s name is Simba, he’s three years old, and the photos were taken on the night of Nov. 17 in Thailand’s Nakhon Nayok province, about 112 km (70 miles in the Proper American Method of Measuring Distance™) northeast of Bangkok.

Beyond that, though, it’s actually a sad story: You know things are truly dire when we’ve destroyed so much wildlife habitat that elephants are coming up to people’s houses and eating the trees and shrubs in their gardens. Elephants usually do everything they can to avoid humans, and for good reason: Conflicts almost always end poorly for the elephants.

We hope this photo draws the attention of the right people, who can perhaps mitigate the situation or put resources into moving the elephants to a more suitable range.

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P.S. Buddy disputes any and all allegations that he would have soiled himself or run away from elephants. In fact, the elephants are lucky they don’t share a continent with Buddy!

Conservationists Want Cat Owners On Their Side

Wildlife conservationists are worried, and they have a right to be.

In addition to the billions of animals we humans kill every year in our ruthless exploitation of life on this planet, our pet cats have their own separate impact, killing birds and small mammals in significant numbers.

Yet conservationists aren’t making headway with cat lovers, primarily because their approach frequently relies on shaming and drastic, often cruel proposals: Some Australian states are outright culling cats, offering $10 a head for adults and $5 for kittens, for example, while a pair of academics from the Netherlands advocate criminally prosecuting cat owners who let their pets outside combined with a policy of euthanizing millions of cats. Extremists in the US are pushing for similar measures, arguing that TNR (trap, neuter, return) isn’t an effective way of managing cat populations.

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Something has to be done, and a few smart conservationists are realizing the accusatory, Richard Dawkins-style of engaging “the enemy” just causes people to withdraw, not to listen and cooperate.

“I get quite sick of the conflict focus of some conservation biologists,” Wayne Linklater, chairman of the environmental studies department at California State, tells New Scientist. “The solutions lie with the people who care most about cats, not with the people who don’t care about them.”

Great. Now there are a few things conservationists should know as they engage with people who care for cats:

  • Most of us want what you want: We want cat owners to keep their pets inside. Cats aren’t wild animals. They have no “natural habitat” and contrary to misconceptions, they don’t belong outside. They’re not equipped to provide for themselves, and they face dangers from traffic, predators like coyotes and mountain lions, fights with other cats, and perverse humans who kill and torture them for fun. Strays and ferals live short, brutal lives (living to an average of 3.5 years) while indoor cats live 17 years on average. The “cats belong inside” angle is common ground from which to start a dialogue.
  • Stop repeating bunk studies as fact! The idea that cats are an all-consuming plague on wildlife came about as a result of a handful of studies, yet all but the most recent of them are based on old data and manipulated numbers compiled by people with an agenda. One of the earliest studies, which claimed cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals annually, relies so heavily on invented numbers and massaged data that it’s worthless and outright dangerous to informed discourse on the topic, yet it’s repeated as fact by credulous conservationists and the press. Knowing the true scope of the problem is key to understanding whether mitigation efforts really work. Misinformation only sabotages those efforts.
  • Come get your people: Peter Marra is one of the co-authors of the bunk 2013 Nature Communications study with the above oft-cited numbers, and he’s also the author of the shrill Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. Marra is an advocate of using taxpayer money to kill millions of cats. He also says that anyone who questions his claims about cats — a group that includes major animal rescues, welfare organizations, and many academics — is tantamount to climate change deniers and tobacco companies that denied for decades that cigarettes have a negative effect on health. Marra’s major contributions amount to sowing misinformation, polarizing the issue and inflaming opinions on both sides. Everything about his behavior indicates he wants to sell books and promote himself, not save wildlife from predatory domestic cats. He should not be taken seriously and his research should not be reported as fact.

Cat lovers are, by definition, animal lovers. They’re people who care about wildlife and domestic animal welfare. It shouldn’t be difficult to engage with them.

At the same time, cat advocates need to purge the crazies out of their ranks as well. Sending death threats to scientists (see the New Scientist link up top) is way out of order, it’s inhuman behavior and it only hurts the legitimacy of our cause.

A good first step toward reconciliation could involve enlisting cat owners in an effort to properly study feline impact on small wildlife, producing reliable data to facilitate a measured, fact-based approach that doesn’t begin and end with the notion that cats are hellspawn.
If all sides engage in good faith, there’s no reason why we can’t protect wildlife and cats.

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