Reports of two feral kittens romping the tracks Thursday caused the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to shut down 6 miles of the New York City subway system.
The MTA shut power to sections of the B and Q subway lines where rails carry 600 volts of electricity. Workers eventually rounded up the feline culprits, but the incident served as a reminder of how burgeoning feral cat populations have become a major problem to people and other species worldwide.
According to information available on feralcat.com, the number of feral cats in the US is a jaw-dropping 60 million strays —resulting from irresponsible pet owners failing to spay or neuter their cats.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates one pair of cats and their offspring can produce 400,000 cats over a seven-year period.
It has created a staggering problem for birds and small animal species being killed by the exploding cat population. Experts say that although trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs are a good idea, they are expensive and minimally effective when done on a smaller scale, because they can’t outpace felines that are notorious propagators.
The Smithsonian reports that up to 3.7 billion birds are lost to feral cats in the US annually. In addition, up to 20.7 billion smaller animals are killed by free-roaming cats in urban areas. Apparently, housecats are only a minor part of the problem but putting bells on well-fed stealthy cats may be an inadequate method to keep them from killing birds and other critters.
Feral cats have been particularly problematic for island species.
Hawaii has the densest population of feral cats in the US, with an estimated 300,000 currently roving urban Oahu.
The August issue of AllAnimal Magazine published by the HSUS reports that conservationists have been working with cat advocates and the HSUS to prevent feral cats from killing an endangered pair of Oahu ‘elepaio birds, since they are 2 of only 10 breeding pairs that remain on the island. Unfortunately, observers report they have chosen to nest in a tree precariously near a gully full of feral cats. All they can do is observe and try to protect any hatchling that may appear from feline predators. Cat advocates are trying furiously to get many put up for adoption, but state park caretakers want them gone, even if they have to be euthanized.
In the early 2000’s, the Galapagos Islands, discovered by Charles Darwin had to take care of their feral cat problem with lethal methods after unique island species and Galapagos ecosystems were being decimated. The problem began after cats from visiting ships escaped or were deposited on shore. Cats nearly drove land iguanas extinct on the small island of Baltra. Unfortunately, Galapagos National Park officials, left with few options, resorted to a three-year baiting and shooting program. Currently, Baltra has been cat-free since 2003 and colonies of land iguanas are recovering.
It is more important than ever for cat owners to seriously consider spay/neuter options and to keep their cats indoors or monitored in a fashion that keeps them from contributing to the problem of disappearing songbird populations.
The media treated Thursday’s subway shut down as amusing but it signifies an enormous problem that has few palatable solutions.