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Don’t blame cats for destroying wildlife, shaky logic is leading to moral panic

The dispute over cats is not primarily about the science. Rather, it is an ongoing debate over the ethics of humanity’s relationship with other animals and nature.

WILLIAM S. LYNN, ET AL: Conservationists and the media often claim that cats are a main contributor to a mass extinction, a catastrophic loss of species due to human activities, like habitat degradation and the killing of wildlife. As an interdisciplinary team of scientists and ethicists studying animals in conservation, we examined this claim and found it wanting. It is true that like any other predator, cats can suppress the populations of their prey. Yet the extent of this effect is ecologically complex. The potential impact of cats differs between urban environments, small islands and remote deserts. When humans denude regions of vegetation, small animals are particularly at risk from cats because they have no shelter in which to hide…

Add in contrary evidence and the case against cats gets even shakier. For instance, in some ecological contexts, cats contribute to the conservation of endangered birds, by preying on rats and mice. There are also documented cases of coexistence between cats and native prey species. The fact is, cats play different predatory roles in different natural and humanized landscapes. Scientists cannot assume that because cats are a problem for some wildlife in some places, they are a problem in every place…

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Yet there are many options to consider. Protecting apex predators and their habitat is fundamental to enabling threatened species to coexist with cats. In some cases, people may choose to segregate domestic cats from vulnerable wildlife: for instance, with catios where cats can enjoy the outdoors while being kept apart from wildlife. In other cases, unhomed cats may be managed with trap-neuter-return programs and sanctuaries.

Finally, contrary to the framing of some scientists and journalists, the dispute over cats is not primarily about the science. Rather, it evokes an ongoing debate over the ethics that ought to guide humanity’s relationship with other animals and nature. This is the root of the moral panic over cats: the struggle to move beyond treating other beings with domination and control, toward fostering a relationship rooted in compassion and justice. SOURCE…

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