In 1894, a lighthouse keeper named David Lyall arrived on Stephens Island off New Zealand with a cat named Tibbles. In just over a year, the Stephens Island Wren, a rare bird endemic to the island, was rendered extinct. Mounting scientific evidence confirms what many conservationists have suspected for some time – that in the United States alone, free-ranging cats are killing birds and other animals by the billions. Equally alarming are the little-known but potentially devastating public health consequences of rabies and parasitic Toxoplasma passing from cats to humans at rising rates. Cat Wars tells the story of the threats free-ranging cats pose to biodiversity and public health throughout the world, and sheds new light on the controversies surrounding the management of the explosion of these cat populations.
This compelling book traces the historical and cultural ties between humans and cats from early domestication to the current boom in pet ownership, along the way accessibly explaining the science of extinction, population modeling, and feline diseases. It charts the developments that have led to our present impasse – from Stan Temple's breakthrough studies on cat predation in Wisconsin to cat-eradication programs underway in Australia today. It describes how a small but vocal minority of cat advocates has campaigned successfully for no action in much the same way that special interest groups have stymied attempts to curtail smoking and climate change.
Cat Wars paints a revealing picture of a complex global problem – and proposes solutions that foresee a time when wildlife and humans are no longer vulnerable to the impacts of free-ranging cats.
1 The Obituary of the Stephens Island Wren 1
2 America’s Dairy Land and Its Killing Fields 10
3 The Rise of Bird Lovers and Cat Lovers: The Perfect Storm 29
4 The Science of Decline 49
5 The Zombie Maker: Cats as Agents of Disease 75
6 Taking Aim at the Problem 95
7 Trap-Neuter-Return: A Palatable Solution That Is No Solution At All 121
8 A Landscape with Fewer Free-Ranging Cats: Better for Cats, Better for Birds, Better for People 144
9 What Kind of Nature Awaits? 168
Peter P. Marra has written more than 175 scientific publications, is the coeditor of Birds of Two Worlds, and directs the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
Chris Santella is the author of many books, including the Fifty Places travel and outdoor series and The Tug Is the Drug. His writing has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, and Trout.
"We know that nature's theater bristles with industrious carnivores and omnivores – hawks that pluck cardinals right off a bird feeder, squirrels that grab eggs from crows' nests, and crows that grab babies from squirrels' nests. What makes free-ranging cats such an exceptionally dangerous threat to birds and other wildlife? The book describes a number of factors."
– Natalie Angier, New York Review of Books
"Marra and Santella thoughtfully examine the severe ecological damage caused by feral cats and outdoor pet cats. Highly readable [...] Cat lovers are presented in a sympathetic light throughout, making the book worth reading no matter a reader's position on free-ranging cats."
– Publishers Weekly
"Marra and Santella make an impassioned plea for action in this compelling report on an often overlooked threat."
– Scientific American
"Cat Wars is a work of commanding reasonableness, with plenty of facts and figures and the testimonies of experts to support its unpalatable conclusions. There are some fascinating digressions, too, including sympathetic profiles of activists on both sides of the debate in the U.S."
– The Australian
"Cat Wars has a broader, more ecological focus, documenting the global impact of cats on wildlife, both by preying on animals and by transmitting diseases [...] Marra and Santella explore the solutions (keeping cats indoors, catios – an enclosed area outside the home – and killing strays) [...] This is an important and eye-opening book that clearly says: 'keep Tiddles a house cat.'"
– Adrian Barnett, New Scientist
"Very few people enjoy thinking about the calamitous problem of free-roaming cats and biodiversity, and even fewer dare to talk about it openly. Marra and Santella's book is therefore doubly welcome. It's not only important reading for anyone who cares about nature. With its engaging storytelling, its calmly scientific approach, and its compassionate handling of a highly fraught issue, this is also a book that a person might actually read for pleasure."
– Jonathan Franzen
"Here, at last, is what native-ecosystem advocates have been waiting for – a complete, dispassionate examination of America's free-ranging cat debacle. It's all here – from the horrendous bird mortality to the cat-borne pathogens blighting wildlife and humans to the cruelty and futility of Trap-Neuter-Return. Everyone gets to speak – including the feral-cat lobby."
– Ted Williams, environmental journalist
"The level-tempered approach of Cat Wars will win many advocates. Anyone interested in the broader topics of a healthy environment and healthy human society will benefit from reading this book. It's as powerful as TV ads featuring the 'crying Indian' in the antilittering campaign of the early 1970s."
– Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest
"In Cat Wars, Peter Marra and Chris Santella lay out the extraordinary (and extraordinarily devastating) toll that America's favorite pet inflicts on America's favorite birds. At a time when native bird populations are in desperate trouble, and the number of free-ranging cats has never been higher, the authors bring clear-eyed science and commonsense solutions to one of the most polarizing issues in avian conservation. This is an important book, even if the message is not a comfortable one."
– Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds
"Cats, most of them unowned free-ranging cats, kill as many as four billion birds in the United States each year. What, if anything, should be done about it? Cat Wars tackles this difficult dilemma. If you are a cat lover, a bird lover, a philosopher, an ethicist, or just anyone interested in gut-wrenching dilemmas, you will find this a gripping book."
– Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
"A great overview of a complex and often emotional challenge. Cat Wars unravels yet another layer of the global decline in biodiversity and frames the potentially drastic consequences of inaction."
– Grant Sizemore, American Bird Conservancy
"Cat Wars is a brave, engaging, and careful accounting of the cats we love and the devastation they inflict on birds and other wildlife."
– John M. Marzluff, author of Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife