“The cat is the most damaging invasive predator for biodiversity”. It is the summary of the letter that a group of Spanish scientists has just published, in which they criticize the deficiencies of the bill for the protection, rights and welfare of animals, approved by the Government three months ago. They point out that the government document clashes head-on with European laws and strategies for the conservation of biodiversity. His opinion:The medium-term objective of environmental laws must be the disappearance of wild catsincluding feline colonies”.
The letter, published in the journal ‘Conservation Science and Practice’ collects the conclusions of multiple studies carried out in recent years on cats. Among others, the following stand out:
–“The domestic cat has been implicated in more than a quarter of contemporary extinctions of birds, mammals, and reptiles worldwideand is considered the most damaging invasive predator.”
–“Predation by cats is the most important cause of mortality of small mammals and birdsahead of roadkill, poisoning, or human hunters.”
–“Contrary to popular belief, well-fed colony cats still hunt wild prey, and due to their high densities, feral cats often exert impacts on prey populations that are several times greater than native predators.”
–“The impacts of cats are especially severe on islandsand the Spanish law will undoubtedly make it difficult to conserve the endemic fauna of the Canary and Balearic Islands”.
– “In addition to the depredation, cats also act as vectors and reservoirs of numerous diseases that can endanger wildlife and harm public health.”
–“Stray cat colonies may play a particularly important role in the dynamics of the disease due to the high density of individuals and their intense interactions within the colonies and with owned and feral cats.”
Criticism of the animal welfare bill
The letter begins by highlighting how “moral circles” have historically expanded “beyond humans to include non-human beings as well.” As a result, various emerging legal instruments around the world have granted rights to animals.
Nevertheless, “the inclusion of animals within moral circles is subject to important biases, with a preference for charismatic, familiar and beautiful vertebrates”, underline the signatories, who argue that the legal instruments that adopt such biases “can endanger the conservation of biodiversity”.
Specifically, they question the draft law prepared by the Ministry of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda to restructure most interactions between humans and animals. “Since it focuses on a few domestic species, the draft conflicts with several European and Spanish laws and key management strategies for biodiversity conservation”, they point.
The draft pays special attention to the stray cat colonies; that is, high-density groups of ownerless cats, sustained by an artificial supply of resources. “It intends to grant them protection and support, both nutritional and veterinary (in charge of local public administrations), and recognize an official status for their volunteer caregivers,” the scientists indicate.
Besides, the bill prohibits the elimination of felinesreplacing culling, which has managed to eradicate cat populations on several islands through fertility monitoringan instrument that is considered “more ethical”.
“However, fertility control only allows population reduction when applied at high rates over long periods of time and in spatial contiguity, at very high costs and with compensatory effects that must be managed simultaneously”, stress the researchers.
Harmful effects on public health
They think that management “so complex and often unaffordable” will cause fertility control to perpetuate or even increase “the already high number of feral cats in cities and rural areasthus maintaining (in the short term) and then increasing (in the long term) its devastating impacts on biodiversity”.
“Although challenging, the medium-term goal of environmental laws must be the disappearance of feral cats, including cat colonies”, stress the scientists. Consider “essential” raise awareness in society “about the harmful effects that cats have on biodiversity and public health through effective communication.
Scientists see “contradictory” that the same Ministry in charge of meeting the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, including stopping the loss of biodiversity, proposes “the improvement and maintenance of a powerful driver of biodiversity loss.”
And they add that while wildlife management can sometimes trigger “ethical challenges,” prioritizing the well-being and fate of individuals of a few favored animal species over the conservation of species, populations, ecosystem functioning, and global biodiversity will promote “impoverished and homogeneous biotas dominated by a handful of privileged animals”.
For all these reasons, they emphasize that the legal instruments must unequivocally seek “reduce the negative impacts of free-roaming cats by minimizing their numbers in the shortest time possible and limiting outdoor access for owned cats as much as possible.”
To give an idea of the magnitude of the problem, it is enough to point out that in Barcelona alone there are more than 9,000 stray cats. The letter is signed by researchers from the Pablo de Olavide University, the Doñana Biological Station-CSIC, the Miguel Hernández University, the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies-CSIC-UIB and the Institute of Natural Products and Agrobiology-CSIC.
Letter from the Spanish researchers: https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/csp2.12706
Preliminary bill for the protection, rights and welfare of animals: https://www.mdsocialesa2030.gob.es/servicio-a-la-ciudadania/proyectos-normativos/documentos/AP_LEY_ANIMALES.pdf
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