Domestic cats, alien invasives causing massive damage around the world

I used to have a cat. She was so beautiful; I felt proud that she was my cat. Somehow by associating with her, taking care of such a beautiful object, my standard of living appeared to have risen.

I was raised with cats. My parents didn’t like the mess of dogs, so the compromise with us kids was a cat. She was pure grey, with short heavy fur and blue eyes. Her name was Pussy! She was free to pass in and out of the house, so she spent a lot of time outside, and was very strong.

Living with animals is an educational opportunity. We watched the cat bearing her babies the slimy balls coming out with eyes shut, mother licking them clean and fluffy; we watched the kittens nurse, pawing their mother’s teats, making small mewling cries, comforted quickly; as weeks passed, we starting playing with them. The kittens were different patterns of black and white and one was tortoiseshell.  There were four so we each claimed one. Mine was pure black with a little white under his chin. I named him Balthazar.

We watched how Pussy raised her kittens. She taught them how to hunt when they were very small, bringing them mice, birds, and chipmunks. When they were older, she brought food/playthings live and for the kittens to bat them around. At first this was interesting, and we marveled at Pussy’s cleverness. It’s not easy to catch a bird. Then as the dead wild animals became a constant stream, the amount of killing going on became distressing and gross.

She also killed when she wasn’t raising kittens, or even hungry.  She would bring in a dead bird or chipmunk as a ‘present’.

In Dar es Salaam also, I had a cat for a while. She was given to me by a friend who left Tanzania. She was unusually fluffy, beautiful, and tiny; her fur was a very long-haired tortoise shell pattern.  She was so refined she seemed to walk on her tiptoes. She was spayed, so she was not birthing and feeding young ones. Even so, she killed any number of birds, geckoes, small mammals. She was a killing machine – no nesting bird, or young were safe.

I didn’t know what to do – I wanted to get rid of her, but I felt bad killing such a beautiful creature who was trying to be my friend. I felt guilty giving a killing machine as a gift.  I tried to keep her inside, but she liked being outside, and the house was not set up to keep her in if she did not want to be in. I ended up letting her fade away into old age, and let out a sigh of relief when she died.

Letting cats be cats has led to their becoming a dangerous alien invasive almost everywhere on the planet. Felis catus was domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago in the ancient Middle East; it is possible they behave themselves better in their native ecosystem. But elsewhere, the cat meets 100% of all criteria to place it on the top of the list of invasive species, due to the animals’ harmful impact on biodiversity. That’s how Prof. Solarz in Poland described the situation after counting the amount of wildlife deaths caused by cats. He estimated that cats kill 140 million birds and other creatures in Poland alone, every year. Many of these birds are migrants from Africa – and are killed during breeding season.

In North America it is estimated that cats kill 2,500,000,000 (2.5 billion) birds every year. Again, many of them will be migrants from the South during breeding season. Three-quarters of all non-natural bird deaths in North America are caused by domestic cats.

The number of wildlife deaths caused by cats in Tanzania has not been calculated. But cats are around. I often have to chase away my neighbor’s cats found hunting in the garden.

As our planet diversity collapses in front of us, domestic cats need to be spayed and inside or leashed. These days some cat-loving people are building catariums – outdoor enclosures  – for their cats.

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