Feral cats, urban wildlife, and species survival amid human enterprise
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2004:
TNR Past, Present, & Future:
A History of the Trap-Neuter-Return Movement
by Ellen Perry Berkeley
Alley Cat Allies (1801 Belmont Rd. NW, Suite 201, Washington, DC
100 pages, paperback. $16.00.
The Raccoon Next Door: Getting Along With Urban Wildlife
by Gary Bogue
illustrated by Chuck Todd
Heyday Books (POB 9145, Berkeley, CA 94709), 2003. 142 pages,
How the Earth’s Species Can Survive In The Midst of Human Enterprise
by Michael L. Rosenzweig
Oxford University Press (198 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016), 2003.
209 pages, hardcover. $27.00.
Ellen Perry Berkeley’s 1982 volume Maverick Cats, especially
the 1987 reprint, is justly credited with introducing appreciation
and understanding of feral cats to the U.S. humane movement. Focusing
on the ecological roles of feral cats, Berkeley included a
description of neuter/return feral cat population control, then
known to be widely used only in Britain.
To what extent Maverick Cats influenced the first large-scale
practitioners of neuter/return in the U.S. is difficult to say,
since hundreds of individuals had already quietly sterilized
thousands of cats in quiet private projects. What can be said is
that Maverick Cats gave the work a New Testament.
Already out of print again by the time Alley Cat Allies
emerged as the first nationally prominent neuter/return organization,
Maverick Cats was copied and passed hand to hand until the current
edition appeared in 2001.
In TNR Past, Present, & Future, Berkeley provides the Old
Testament. Forty-one of the 100 pages are the “begats,” i.e.
footnotes and index. Many of the footnotes are actually short essays
that could have been developed into chapters. Even the seven
“developed” chapters could be much longer, telling more of the
stories of former fashion model Celia Hammond, veterinarian Jenny
Remfry, and the many others, mostly still alive, who contributed
to the evolution of neuter/return, and whose memories should be
Brevity, however, is the soul of wit, and it is to be
remembered that Genesis gave even the stories of Adam and Eve and
Noah’s ark just a few verses. Others filled in the color much later.
TNR Past, Present, & Future is structurally sound, providing an
accurate historical framework to guide anyone else who may in the
future write about how feral cats moved from near invisibility to
front-and-center in the transition of humane work from
ever-increasing killing to seriously pursuing the no-kill goal.
Central to Maverick Cats, and mentioned in one way or
another by almost everyone else having much to do with feral cats,
is the concept that cats are by nature less a domesticated species
than easily tamed wildlife. There are three social classes or states
of being of cats: true ferals, who have never lived with humans;
cats who are dependent upon humans; and strays, who once depended
on humans but were abandoned or lost. Many cats move back and forth
among the categories.
No other species drifts as easily or often from
self-sufficiency to a lap, or the converse.
Gary Bogue in The Raccoon Next Door argues for keeping cats
indoors. He sometimes turns a hose on cats to save birds, but seems
mostly appreciative and tolerant of cats who are not fortunate enough
to have homes. The Raccoon Next Door emphasizes species native to
northern California, yet Bogue appears to realistically consider any
species “native” enough to deserve squatter’s rights and kind
treatment if it can suvive amid human development.
Most of the animals Bogue writes about occur throughout the
U.S., and his observations and recommendations are accordingly
applicable far beyond the distribution radius of the Contra Costa
Times, for which Bogue has authored a daily column about animals and
habitat since 1971.
From 1967 to 1979 Bogue formulated his live-and-let-live
approach to urban wildlife ecology while doubling as director of the
Lindsay Wildlife Museum wildlife rehabilitation center. His bio note
calls the Lindsay “the nation’s first wildlife rescue and
Actually, the Lindsay wasn’t even the first in the San
Francisco Bay area, unless one splits hairs over definitions, since
attempts to treat sick and injured wildlife and restore local
wildlife populations can be traced back to the late 19th century.
However, the bio note is on the last page, and there are
not many books I can read to the last page without finding something
to quibble about.
This brings up Win-Win Ecology. For several chapters,
University of Arizona ecology and evolutionary biology professor
Michael L. Rosenzweig makes a promising start at explaining such
concepts as “Reconciliation Ecology” and “Landscape Architecture for
the Third Millennium,” explaining how humans can learn to do a much
better job of accommodating nature, including endangered species,
without sacrificing our own vital interests. Rosenzweig is not
wedded to the notion that habitat should somehow be managed or
restored to perpetuate the conditions of 1492. He understands that
biodiversity can thrive in highly varied conditions.
Yet just as Rosenzweig appears to be on the verge of
acknowledging that authentic biodiversity would not be in any trouble
whatever, if the presence and contributions of non-native species
are acknowledged along with the status of species considered native,
he does an about-face and dives off the deep end into predicting mass
extinction, largely because of the anticipated effects of “invasive”
Much of the latter half of Win-Win Ecology models how
Rosenzweig, entomologist E.O. Wilson, and other prophets of an
imminent mass extinction believe it will work.
The models build on at least three flagrant fallacies.
The first fallacy is that the verifiable decline of many
large charismatic megafauna, especially in Africa and Asia, is in
some way indicative of the overall state of biodiversity. Indeed,
many smaller organisms are dependent upon large charismatic
megafauna–but large animals are only the smallest part of
biodiversity, have always fluctuated wildly in number and variety
with changes in climate, and have not actually declined in biomass
We have fewer wild bovines, but more cattle, for example,
with the net effect that the biomass of Holsteins and Herefords is
now approximately what the biomass of bison was 150 years ago, while
the present biomass of bison is probably close to what the biomass of
domestic cattle was then.
Moreover, while large charismatic megafauna are particularly
pressured in some parts of the world, large carnivores including
wild wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, pumas, coyotes, and
nearly all of the raptors are rebounding in North America, after
many were close to extinction for much of the 20th century.
A major factor in their recovery is the recovery of their
prey base, including deer, elk, and moose.
Though North America has twice as many people as lived here
when predators and prey were at their low ebb, we have become much
better than our ancestors at sharing our habitat with other large
animals, even those who might eat us.
This seems to be a byproduct of increasing wealth and
education. There is accordingly hope that the rest of the world will
follow in the same direction, with rising affluence and good
leadership by example.
The second extinction scenario fallacy is that we can model
extinction rates of very small undiscovered species from projections
of findings within mere patches of habitat. We cannot, but even if
we could, the fossil record so far provides almost no reliable
information about normal background rates of extinction. In truth,
we really have no sound evidence that we are losing small species,
and we might even be in a time of rapid species diversification and
emergence, due to accelerating incidental transport of
micro-organisms into new habitat.
The third extinction scenario fallacy is that evolution
depends upon biodiversity. Actually, evolution is driven by gaps in
biodiversity. If every available niche is filled with a uniquely
adapted species, evolution takes a break for a few million years.
Only if changing climate alters the niches, displacing established
species, are there openings for anything new. When openings emerge,
they tend to be filled by representatives of the most abundant,
adaptable, and broadly distributed orders, some of whom specialize
to fill the niche.
Superficially, the game is Monopoly, but over time the
hotels on Park Place and the Boardwalk split into separate
institutions. There are no enduring monopolies in nature.
Thus while Rosenzweig and others warn grimly of a world whose
only wild predators will purportedly be “generalists,” like feral
cats and raccoons, a more realistic scenario recognizes that feral
cats represent only the most successful branch of one of the oldest
and most extremely diverse carnivore lines, while raccoons are near
one end of a closely related continuum that also includes ringtails,
panda, and polar bears. Traits of every animal in the ancestry of
feral cats and raccoons may re-emerge in new combinations, if and
when they must adapt to new habitat.
Indeed, the wildlife ecology of the future will differ from
that of today. But it will not be less