Nothing is safe when an outdoor cat is on the prowl. Last week I gave the High Desert Museum the glad hand for the many things they are doing to further conservation of our natural and cultural resources. The principal subject was the excellent work they are doing with spotted owl reproduction with captive owls.
In my opinion, the spotted owl work the High Desert Museum is doing is akin to the art and science carried out with the (once nearly extinct) California Condor in similar institutions around the nation.
However, when it comes to carrying out conservation of wildlife that inhabits the Museum's grounds the HDM is a total flop! At this moment they are not going to get the "glad hand," but the back of my hand. Why? The Oregon High Desert Museum is allowing one of the most destructive alien species in the country, the housecat, to kill Oregon's indigenous wildlife on museum property.
Let me tell you how this all came about...
Last Saturday, at around 11am I chanced to call my good friend, Tom Rodhouse, a National Park Service field biologist living in Bend. I asked him where he was, and he replied, "Oh, I'm here at the High Desert Museum with my daughter, Isabel near the otter exhibit. Where are you?"
I replied that at that moment I was parked adjacent to Drake Park, and wondering if we could have lunch together.
"That would be great Jim..." he began, and then suddenly shouted, "Stop, Isabel! That's a feral cat, it can hurt you!" After a moments hesitation he went on, "Jim, you're not going to believe this, but there's a feral cat right here in front of Isabel and me ready to pounce on a pine chipmunk."
I should probably give you Tom's qualifications for knowing a pine chipmunk when he sees one. He has carried out various in-depth mammal studies for the National Park Service and is an expert on bats. He knows a lot about our native mammals and speaks with authority.
We both agreed it was prudent to alert the museum staff that a feral cat had found its way onto the museum grounds and was making a living off native wildlife. With that, Tom said so long and headed off to find a museum employee.
In a few minutes he called back. "Jim," he sputtered, "you're not going to believe this..." I could tell by the tone of his voice he was very upset, and in a few words I knew why. "The person I talked to at the front desk insisted that wasn't a "feral cat," but it was 'Ellie Mae,' and belongs to one of the people at the Pioneer Home exhibit. And the worst part is, the person I talked to acted surprised that I'd be all worked up over a 'pet cat' catching a chipmunk."
According to HDM spokesperson, Cathy Carroll, the museum keeps the cat for "rodent control." It doesn't seem to matter whether the rodents the cat is "controlling" are indigenous, protected species. As long as the cat is killing "rodents," the museum staff is happy. It also doesn't seem to matter if a little "collateral damage" takes place - like few juncos, warblers or bluebirds.
"Outdoor cats" and "feral cats," Dear Readers, are a serious threat to indigenous wildlife. The so-called "pet cat" at the museum was observed doing what outdoor and feral cats do best, killing indigenous (and protected) wildlife. Not only did Tom watch the event, but other museum visitors also witnessed the cat capturing the chipmunk.
Cat lovers do not enjoy anyone reproaching their favorite pet for the damages they do to Oregon's birds and small mammals. Nevertheless, the science that supports allegations of damages caused by alien cats to not only common birds, reptiles and mammals, but to Endangered Species is irrefutable.
I see new feral cats around my place between Bend and Sisters weekly. The other day, a big, black feral tomcat bounced off my back porch railing in pursuit of one of the juncos that spend winter with me. The week before it was my neighbor's outdoor cat running by the window carrying a fox sparrow in its mouth.
I have two large live traps that I loan to people who are tired of seeing outdoor and feral cats leaping onto their bird-feeders and killing indigenous wildlife. They are rarely out of service...
If you want grim evidence of the harm these outdoor and alien predators are causing, Google "feral cats and birds."
You will find enough information on the pros and cons of feral and outdoor cats to keep you upset for a month. When you evaluate all that there is to peruse, you may come to the same conclusion what most wildlife managers have come to: outdoor and feral cats are a plague all over the world.
It is past time for cities, counties and state officials to identify the outdoor and feral cat as an "Alien Predator" and implement the same legislation that prohibits dogs running loose. Cats outnumber dogs and because of their stealthy nature are doing more damages to wildlife than dogs could begin to do in the wild and suburban areas -and yet, city, county and state animal control officials ignore them.
The capture, neuter and release of feral cats may be "humane" to cat-lovers, but it does not stop or reduce damages such cats do to wildlife. The only solution is for city, county and state officials to pass legislation prohibiting cats running lose on property other than the cat's owner. If a stiff penalty is implemented to enforce the law, damages to wildlife will be reduced.
The High Desert Museum should be a leader in a drive to stop the damages these feline invaders do to our protected wildlife. The museum is a great location for informative displays showing the damages outdoor cats cause to indigenous wildlife. Perhaps they too don't want to buck the cat-lovers and put an end to the appalling damages.