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What Can Be Done To Reduce Feral Cat Population?

I don’t know, professor. Dauphiné and Cooper go through some mathematical gymnastics to arrive at their bumper-sticker-worthy “one billion birds.” Sounds to me like the numbers actually matter.

It’s not clear how I’m “whipping up uncertainty,” as you suggest, by carefully examining these studies. In fact, there’s more than a little uncertainty in the research itself—mishandled statistics that lead to estimates inflated by a factor of two or more, for instance. And in any event, I thought asking questions was central to scientific inquiry. Indeed, good work stands up well against it (and is often improved as a result).

Regarding the Crooks & Soulé study you refer to, I’ve commented briefly about this one on the blog. The study site was a “moderately sized fragment (~20 ha) [approximately 49 acres] bordered by 100 residences.” Obviously, the development of the area had some impact on the wildlife there. More important, the cats included in the study were all pets; it’s not clear how their hunting behavior compares to feral cats in general, or managed TNR colonies in particular. It’s also not clear how sites such as this one, which the authors describe as, “undeveloped steep-sided can¬yons… habitat islands in an urban sea,” correspond to the environment overall.

I find it curious—and, frankly, unsettling—that so many scientists prize scientific PUBLICATION over scientific INQUIRY and RIGOR. I’m sure you’re aware of the recent high-profile failures of the peer-review system—the Lancet’s retraction of an article incorrectly linking vaccinations to autism (, say, or the ghost-written Zoloft papers that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the American Journal of Psychiatry ( I assume that if my assessment of the situation were in line with yours, you wouldn’t give the source a second thought.

I thought scientists—and teachers in general—were supposed to be encouraging critical thinking, not protecting power structures (many of which are, in any case, teetering on the brink of irrelevance). How else are we going to take on the numerous, imposing challenges we face?

Peter J. Wolf

September 12, 2010 at 9:44 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

What Can Be Done To Reduce Feral Cat Population?


This is not a matter of their being two sides, as you suggest. Any more than there are two sides about the earth being flat, the “theory” of evolution, or Obama’s religion.

That said, this IS a complex topic. The science surrounding the topic is incomplete, and contradictory findings are not uncommon. That, of course, is simply the nature of science.

What you’re describing as “the other side” is, for the most part, a concerted effort not to further our understanding of the issues at hand, but to present a very specific perspective IN SPITE OF the science.

The American Bird Conservancy, which you cite, is among the worst in this regard. This organization was called out several years ago for the misleading and deceptive information it was publishing (see Ellen Perry Berkeley’s book TNR Past present and future: A history of the trap-neuter-return movement). Nevertheless, they continue to present this to the public and media as if it were valid science.

I invite you (and anybody else interested in the topic, of course) to go through their brochure Domestic Cat Predation on Birds and Other Wildlife item by item, and then compare the ABC’s claims with my analysis of the studies they refer to. You might be very surprised!

Also: earlier this year, the ABC’s Senior Policy Advisor, Steve Holmer, told the Los Angeles Times (, “The latest estimates are that there are about . . . 160 million feral cats [nationwide]… It’s conservatively estimated that they kill about 500 million birds a year.” This is simply untrue—it comes from an absurd estimate made by Nico Duphiné, a researcher with a clear agenda. Once I brought this to Holmer’s attention (, he back-pedaled—but of course, it was too late. Again, this

I find that other organizations (e.g., the National Audubon Society) simply follow the ABC’s lead, as do government agencies—making their disregard for rigorous scientific inquiry all the more irresponsible.

In order for us to have an honest debate about what ACTION to take, we must first move beyond the pseudoscience. As I say, this is not a matter of two opposing sides having equally valid points—indeed, such a situation would represent great progress.

Peter J. Wolf

September 9, 2010 at 8:53 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

What Can Be Done To Reduce Feral Cat Population?

Thank you for covering this important topic!

I’d like to respond to some previous comments, if I may. The scientific claims so often made by those opposed to free-roaming cats (and Trap-Neuter-Return in particular) are littered with glaring omissions, contradictions, and bias. And yet, government agencies and the media all too often regard these assertions as the indisputable truth.

I’ve spent the past nine months or so sifting through many studies on the topic of free-roaming cats, making my findings available via my blog, Vox Felina ( As I’ve noted repeatedly on the blog, there are legitimate issues to be debated concerning free-roaming cats (e.g., regarding the efficacy, environmental impact, and morality of Trap-Neuter-Return). But attempts at an honest, productive debate are hampered—if not derailed entirely—by the bogus claims so often put forward by opponents of free-roaming cats/TNR.

I invite you and your listeners to review--and critique--my analysis and commentary. And, most important, to become part of this important debate, armed with a fuller understanding of the issues.

Peter J. Wolf

September 8, 2010 at 8:07 p.m. ( | suggest removal )