Because of their impacts on both native predators and prey, conservation scientists consider free-roaming cats invasive species. While not the greatest threat to wildlife, they add to the increasingly complex web of existing threats.
Species most at risk of death-by-kitty are birds that spend a lot of time on the ground, small mammals and reptiles, according to Temple. In fact, cats are second to habitat destruction as the cause of bird extinction. Thirty-three bird species have met their fate to the paws of cats since the 1600s.
The world’s ever-shrinking “islands” of wildlife habitat are hotspots of conservation concern over free-roaming cat populations, since the native species in these areas are the hardest hit by invading cats. For example, birds that live in America’s dwindling grasslands or on the increasingly crowded seashore are finding themselves in a precarious situation.
Their dependency on humans highlights another dilemma: free-range cats can easily spread diseases and parasites that can jump from cat to cat, cat to wildlife, and even cat to human. The list of contagions includes feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, worms, rabies and toxoplasmosis, a parasite-caused disease that can damage the developing brains of unborn human babies, if their mothers are infected.
Free-roaming cats’ close proximity to both humans and other animals thus creates a potentially strong reservoir for these diseases. While vaccinating both owned and un-owned cats can help reduce the spread of disease, vaccines are not 100 percent effective and the logistics of vaccinating every single cat may be impossible, especially since many vaccinations are annual. Read the entire article.
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