Case studies

 Animal Rights Position Statement Support Materials

Cats and Wildlife Conservation

Advocates for feral cats often argue that cats have a right to remain in outdoor, unrestricted groups, or colonies, supplied with food and water. Conservationists support permanent removal of feral cats—a non-native species—from the environment to protect native wildlife species and natural ecosystems, which are vulnerable to cat predation and disease. Science demonstrates that humanely trapping and removing free-ranging cats has a positive effect on biodiversity.

Case Study: Alameda Naval Air Station, Alameda, California (on the San Francisco Bay).

Conflict: A group of abandoned cats being fed on and near the Naval base are predating a colony of California Least terns (Sterna antillarum browni), a federally listed endangered shorebird.

Animal Rights Solution: Legalize feeding the feral cats on the base and institute a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program to sterilize and subsequently support the abandoned cats.

Why It’s Problematic: Outdoor cats continue to hunt even when they’re well fed, so a non-reproducing cat population still poses a major threat to the Least terns. By allowing cats to live in this habitat, TNR supporters are in effect denying the rights of native wildlife to survive, which one could argue runs contrary to a movement that claims to value all individual animals.

Conservation Solution: Acting to uphold the Endangered Species Act, the Navy trapped and removed the cats in 1997. As a result, the Least tern population rebounded from just a few nesting pairs at the time of the trapping to 275 nests in 2001. Today, the site is a National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Why It Works: Trapping and removal not only protects native wildlife, but provides a more humane solution for the cats as well. Because of accidents, predation, and disease, feral cats live only half as long as pet cats that are cared for in homes. Feral cats that are removed from outdoor colonies can be adopted into indoor homes or humanely euthanized, reducing the suffering endured by the cats themselves.

Sources: Winter, Linda. 2004. Trap-neuter-release programs: the reality and the impacts. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 225(9):1369-1376.
Mitchell, E. 1997. It’s cats vs. terns, with Navy in the middle. Hearst Examiner June 29:A.
Buffa,  J. 2001. Terns at Alameda. US Fish and Wildlife Services, Newark, California: 1374.

White-tailed Deer Management

After dipping to dangerously low levels in the mid-1900s, the population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the United States now exceeds 20 million. Hunting regulations, land-use change, and the local, historical extirpation of top predators which are now unable to exist in the landscape, have all contributed to this spectacular rebound. Hunting, photography, and other wildlife-related recreation make this species economically and culturally valuable. However, the large numbers of deer also cause significant problems, including damage to crops and ecosystems, disease transmission, destruction of property, and vehicle collisions.

Case Study: Fairfax County, Virginia.

Conflict:  When the state authorized managed deer hunts in county parks to control the growing deer population, citizens raised objections, claiming that that the hunts were unsafe to people, inhumane to the deer, and designed only to increase hunting opportunities rather than to control the deer population.

Animal Rights Solution:  Advocates recommended a combination of non-lethal alternatives to reduce deer-human conflicts, such as contraceptives to control population growth and wildlife crossings to limit car-deer collisions.

Why It’s Problematic:  While oral contraceptives can be successful in controlling population size in some situations, this approach is costly and logistically difficult to administer on a large scale in an uncontained area, making it hard to reliably treat sufficient numbers of does to effectively reduce the population. In addition, contraceptive treatments are not yet legal in the state of Virginia. Meanwhile, ecological and economic damages continue to pose real threats to human and wildlife communities, and individual deer in overpopulated areas may suffer from starvation.

Conservation Solution: Police sharpshooters and safety-trained civilian hunters can provide an ethical and environmentally responsible solution to lowering deer populations in areas that can’t support the current numbers.

Why it Works: Fairfax residents believe that hunting is an effective way to deal with deer overpopulation. Surveys by Fairfax County’s government found that about 63 percent of respondents support public deer hunts, and the Fairfax County Deer Management Program has successfully reduced populations at several parks. Public hunts, including bow hunts, are a cost-efficient solution to overpopulation, and may be preferable to other methods when municipal budgets are tight.

Sources: 21st Century Deer Management for Fairfax County: Alternatives.
Fairfax Virginia Deer Management Program.
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Cornell University Wildlife Control Information.

Spotted and Barred Owls in the Pacific Northwest

The spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) has been a federally listed endangered species since 1990. At risk due to habitat loss and fragmentation, it currently has a fairly limited range from southwestern British Columbia in Canada to Marin County in California. The barred owl (Strix varia) has a much larger range, including much of the Eastern United States and into Mexico. Recently, however, the barred owl has expanded into the Pacific Northwest, where it competes with spotted owls for habitat and prey, adding a new threat to spotted owl survival.

Case Study: Structurally complex forests in Washington, Oregon, and California.

Animal Rights Solution: Respect the rights of barred owls to live in the same habitat as spotted owls and allow them to exist (or not) together.

Why It’s Problematic: The barred owl’s aggressive behavior and more flexible dietary needs make it a more competitive species than the spotted owl. If left unchecked, barred owls will out-compete spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest, potentially leading to their extinction.

Conservation Solution: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a species recovery plan for the spotted owl that will incorporate barred owl removal along with strategic land protection and nest monitoring.

Why it Works: By humanely removing barred owls from spotted owl habitat, both species can be preserved—spotted owls in their last remaining habitat, and barred owls in the eastern part of their range.

Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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