Feral cat

FeralFeral cat
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
feral cat is a domesticated cat that has returned to the wild, or the descendants of such an animal. It is distinguished from a stray cat, which is a pet cat that has been lost or abandoned, while feral cats have never been socialized. The offspring of a stray cat can be considered feral if born in the wild.[1] In many parts of the world, feral cats are the offspring of unaltered domestic cats.
Behavior of feral cats
Feral versus stray
The term "feral" is sometimes used to refer to an animal that does not appear friendly when approached by humans, but the term can apply to any domesticated animal without human contact.[1] Hissing and growling are self-defense behaviors, which, over time, may change as the animal (whether "feral" or "stray") begins to trust humans that provide food, water, and care.[2][3]
Feral cats that are born and living outdoors, without any human contact or care, have been shown to be adoptable and can be tamed by humans, provided they are removed from a wild environment before truly feral behaviors are established. Such behaviors are established while it is still a kitten being raised by its mother.[2][4]
Life span and survival
Feral cats in managed colonies can live long lives. A number of cats in managed colonies in the U.K. died of old age.[5]:522 In the U.S., the last cat in a managed colony in Washington, D.C. died at age 17,[6] and Zorro, the last cat of a colony at the Merrimack River in Newburyport, Massachusetts, died in 2009 at age 16.[7]
A long-term study of a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program in Central Florida found that despite widespread concern about the welfare of free-roaming cats, 83% of the cats studied had been present for over six years, with almost half first observed as adults of unknown age. These time spans compared favourably to the average lifespan of 7.1 years for pet cats reported in a 1984 study,[8]:45 and to the finding that only 42% of the pet cat population in the U.S. is more than 5 years old.[9]:1358
Without human assistance, feral kittens are expected to have a high death rate.[8]:45
Adult feral cats without human assistance have been found in surprisingly good condition. In Florida, a study of feral cats admitted to a trap-neuter-return program concluded that "euthanasia for debilitated cats for humane reasons is rarely necessary".[10] A further study of over 100,000 community cats (feral and stray) admitted to TNR programs in diverse locations of the U.S. resulted in the same 0.4% rate of euthanasia for debilitating conditions.[11] Rates of feline leukemia virus infection and feline immunodeficiency virus antibodies in feral cats studied in North Carolina and Florida were similar to those of owned cats.[12] The body condition of feral cats entering a TNR program in Florida was described as "generally lean but not emaciated".[13] However, many community cats had suffered from parasites such as fleas and ear mites before entering TNR programs.[9]
Control and management
Trap-neuter-return (TNR) involves trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and then returning them to the place where there were originally trapped, where ongoing care is provided by caregivers.[14] When neutered, the cats receive vaccinations against rabies, and attention to other medical needs, such as dental care and flea treatments.[15]:115 TNR programs are prevalent in several countries, including England,[5] Italy,[16] Canada and the United States,[17] supported by many local and state governments. Various long-term studies have shown that TNR is effective in stopping reproduction and reducing the population over time.[5][8][18] TNR results in fewer complaints, as nuisance behaviors diminish following neutering,[19]:16 and the quality of life of the cats is improved.[9]:1359[13] The practice is reported to save money[18]:294 and garner more public support and better morale than efforts that involve killing cats.[18]:297[20]:49
The International Companion Animal Management Coalition advocates for TNR as a humane method of controlling feral cat populations.[21] In the U.S., the practice is endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States[22] and the National Animal Control Association.[23] While the United States Department of Defense does not formally advocate TNR, it provides information to military installations on how to implement TNR programs,[24] with the main message that population control programs must be humane.[25]
The multiple, managed, feral colonies at the Colosseum in Rome exceed 250 cats. Other notable colonies include the Canadian Parliamentary Cats and the cats of Jerusalem.[26]
Low-level killing feral cats in open population areas will increase their population, due to dominant cats being targeted.[27]
History
During the Age of Discovery, ships released rabbits onto islands to provide a future food source for other travelers. They eventually multiplied out of control and cats were introduced to keep their numbers, and that of mice and rats, down. The cats tended to favor local species as they were ecologically naive and easier to hunt. Their numbers, too, increased dramatically and soon they colonised many areas and were seen as pests. Cats were introduced to Tasmania in 1804 and had become feral by the 1840s. Feral cats were reported on mainland Australia around Sydney in 1820.[28] It has been suggested that feral cats could have been introduced accidentally to the north-western coast in the 17th century from the wrecks of Dutch ships; alternatively, they could have arrived earlier, possibly around the fifteenth century, via mariners from Indonesia.[29]
Diet and predators[edit]
Domestic and feral cats have generally been found to eat a very broad range of vertebrate and invertebrate prey. Preferred prey usually are small mammals, birds and lizards, especially those with body weights under 100g. Feral cats in Australia prey on a variety of wildlife. In arid and semi-arid environments they eat mostly introduced European rabbits and house mice. In arid environments where rabbits do not occur, native rodents are taken. In forests and urbanised areas, they eat mostly native marsupials, birds and reptiles.[29] On Macaronesian islands, cats prey mainly on introduced mammals but also on birds and reptiles.[30]
Feral cats may be apex predators in some local ecosystems. In others, they may be preyed on by feral dogsdingoescoyoteswolvesbearscougarsleopardslynxhyenas,fisherscrocodilessnakesfoxes, and birds of prey.
Effects on wildlife
Mice and rats
For thousands of years, cats have been known for their ability to hunt mice and rats and keep their populations under control. This ability is understood as the reason cats became domesticated.[31]:68 The relationship was more of convenience (or mutualistic) than dependence: "Cats killed mice and rats, and humans provided lots of mice and rats to kill since mice and rats lived in human settlements."[31]:68 A 2014 study examining 5,300 years of cat remains in an agricultural village of Quanhucun, China, provides early evidence of this dynamic, where cats protected grain stores by eating rodents.[32][33]
If they are well-fed, farm cats are more dependable as effective ratters, as they are less likely to stray or hunt further afield.[34]:110 Cats are wary of adult rats, given their size,[34]:111 but are particularly adept at hunting young rats.[34]:110
In 2002, feral cats introduced to a flower market in Los AngelesCalifornia, were noted to have helped lower rat populations.[35] In Chicago's 47th Ward, feral cats were introduced in 2012 to help the city deal with the rat problem there.[36]
Efforts to eradicate feral cats in Ventura, California, were noted in 2002 to have resulted in increasing numbers of rats, which were being monitored for health problems such as bubonic plague.[35][37]
Birds
A 2013 study by Scott R. Loss and others of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the US Fish and Wildlife Service suggested that free-ranging domestic cats (mostly unowned) are the top human-caused threat to wildlife in the United States, killing an estimated 1.3 to 4 billion birds and 6.3 to 22.3 billion mammals annually.[38][39] These figures were much higher than previous estimates for the U.S.[38]:2Unspecified species of birds native to the U.S. and mammals including miceshrewsvolessquirrels and rabbits were considered most likely to be preyed upon by cats.[38]:4
Advocates for feral cats counter that Loss's study and earlier related studies have inflated estimates of wildlife killed by cats in the U.S., based on unscientific research that extrapolates from tiny samples and projects them onto whole nations.[40] One reviewer stated that Loss's study was filled with "numerous major flaws in the statistical arguments made" that in his view made it "unacceptable for publication".[41]:1 It was unclear how predation rates were obtained, and then "applying these estimates to all cats across the country is highly questionable."[41]:3 Extrapolation was also misused when "Based on a small sample of cats over three summer months in one specific geographic area, the authors see fit to extrapolate this predation rate to all cats at all times of the year in all geographic regions in the United States."[41]:3
Perhaps the first U.S. study that pointed to predation by cats on wildlife as a concern was ornithologist Edward Howe Forbush's 1916 report for the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture, The Domestic Cat: Bird Killer, Mouser and Destroyer of Wildlife: Means of Utilizing and Controlling It.[42]
U.K. biologist and cat behaviour expert Roger Tabor states that "studies from all around the world have found that cats catch relatively few birds compared to small mammals."[43]:135 The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds states that there is no scientific evidence that cat predation "is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide."[44] Moreover, city cats have smaller ranges; in his research, Tabor found "the average annual catch of the average London cat to be two items instead of the fourteen of a village cat."[43]:135 Tabor comments about some of the challenges of stalking birds for cats: "From the cat's point of view not only do birds not play fair by flying and having eyes that can see beyond the back of their heads, but they can positively cheat by using loud alarm calls and throw the cat's chances of catching any others."

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