Feeding Feral Cats is Not For the Birds

ENVIRONMENT

Silicon Valley is booming, and longtime residents are being driven out. But only in Shoreline Park are the newcomers eating the natives. (New York Times)

Where else are feral cats threatening native species? Use our study guide to learn how Australia is dealing with the problem.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including today’s simple MapMaker Interactive map.

Burrowing owls find their home in any warm, open habitat with little vegetation. The low hills and valleys of California’s Silicon Valley fit the bill. (So does the Imperial Valley, where this burrowing owl is scowling.)
Photograph by Alan Vernon, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-2.0

Discussion Ideas

  • Burrowing owls, an indigenous species in western California, are quickly disappearing from protected parkland in Mountain View. Are burrowing owls endangered?
    • No. Burrowing owls are actually a species of least concern. There are healthy populations of burrowing owls in their species range throughout the prairies and drylands of South America, North America, and the Caribbean.
    • In California, burrowing owls are a “species of special concern.” Species of special concern describe organisms that do not meet the criteria of endangered species, but are particularly vulnerable in a state or region. In California, burrowing owls are a species of special concern due to “experiencing, or formerly experienced, serious (noncyclical) population declines or range retractions (not reversed) that, if continued or resumed, could qualify it for State threatened or endangered status.”

 

 

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The entire Shoreline Park complex, including the golf course, lake, park, and outdoor concert venue, were built on a landfill originally used for refuse from San Francisco.

 

  • The primary way GCat and community members manage the feral cat population around the Googleplex is through a process of trap-neuter-return (TNR). What is TNR?
    • Trap-neuter-return is just what it sounds like.
      • trap. Feral cats are humanely trapped.
      • neuter. The trapped animals are surgically neutered, meaning their sexual organs (ovaries in females, testes in males) are removed. Neutering—also called “fixing” or “sterilizing”—makes the cats unable to reproduce.
      • return. Neutered cats are put up for adoption or returned back to the Silicon Valley wild.

 

  • Why are environmentalists critical of trap-neuter-reutrn?
    • Cats that are fed still hunt,” says one researcher. “Even neutered cats and spayed cats hunt.”
    • The animal advocates at PETA are also critical of TNR. “Obviously, cats that are neutered and then released outdoors are not going to breed, but they are likely to suffer far more than indoor cats (and those unadopted ones kept in enclosed sanctuaries) from injuries and disease, kill wildlife, and pose a public health risk from some of the diseases they can transmit to humans.”

 

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

New York Times: As Google Feeds Cats, Owl Lovers Cry Foul

Nat Geo: Shoreline Park and the Googleplex

Nat Geo: Why Australia Has to Kill 2 Million Cats

Nat Geo: How Cats Conquered the World

Nat Geo: TNR Is Dangerous Both to Cats and to Other Animals

(extra credit) Nature Communications: The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States (2013)

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