Sunday, 30 April 2017

Book review - Cat Wars

'The devastating consequences of a cuddly killer'

Peter Marra and Chris Sartella have put together an eminently readable account of the impact cats have on wildlife both historically and up to the present day. Whilst it is written without sentiment or emotion it raised a storm in the USA which is unlikely to go away...



This book took me quite a long time to read but always held my attention and using a 'calm scientific' approach details the calamitous problems they have caused and continue to cause, largely unchecked. Whether you love them or hate them, if you care about nature and (with birds in the front line) I presume that's why you are here reading this, you should read it.

There are a lot of numbers involved, mostly big ones. Cats have evolved a relationship with man for the past 10,000 years. Much of the data is based on studies in the USA, where in Wisconsin, cats kill a minimum of 7.8 million birds each year. If you think that's alarming, the total killed within the USA annually is likely to be in the order of four billion. But don't be mislead, it's not just about facts and figures, it is a compelling read, charting their effects over the years and speculating where it will all end. Whilst other creatures like small mammals are affected, it's the birds which take centre stage but we are at risk too, as a chapter dealing with toxoplasmosis and rabies amongst other serious diseases, clearly points out.


We take cats for granted and whilst their activities often out of sight or mind don't hold our attention,  the content of this book should. It kicks off in 1894, when a lighthouse keeper landed on Stephens Island (off the coast of New Zealand) with his pet cat Tibbles. (Quotations at the start of every chapter, set the scene and are so appropriate.

Just over one year later, the Stephens Island Wren, a small flightless songbird endemic endemic to the island was rendered extinct. Just one cat (with her litter in utero) was responsible was responsible for the extinction of an entire bird species.

I don't want to reveal too much of the specifics within the book but it's clear that the rise of bird lovers and cat lovers provides a recipe for conflict and high emotions. Detailing the struggles from the perspective of either faction shows just how high emotions can run. Laws have been changed in the USA to protect cats, strategies proposed to 'lessen their impact', yet the problem isn't going away there. Eradication of cats on Ascension island was successfully achieved between 2002 -06 but at huge cost. Some success has been claimed in Australia and New Zealand for instance where measures to ensure the continued survival of endemic species manage to meet with public opinion.

It's not easy to sit on the proverbial fence and have no vested interest either way.  Who's to blame for the problem?  Lots of solutions and strategies are explored with predictable outcomes. Neutering cats has little effect on populations and the only successful way of dealing with the problem is to completely eliminate free roaming feral cats from the environment and require owners of domestic cats to keep them inside. As ever, the root cause of the problem is man. We brought them into our lives, some of us released them into the wild and we let our domestic pets roam free. Is there a solution? This book will arm you with the facts.. it will take a long time and effort by all concerned to find and agree to the answer...

Cat Wars: The devastating consequences of a cuddly killer by Peter P Marrra and Chris Santella published by Princeton University Press, New Jersey 2016.
228 pages, 24 colour photos, ISBN 9780691167411. Hardback typically £16.55

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