February 25, 2010
Mallard pair
Mallard pair
It’s been almost two years since I wrote about the feral cats at the Gilbert Riparian Area (GRA).  I’m not sure if I educated anyone then about keeping cats indoors or not releasing their unwanted pets, but I learned something--cats are a hot button issue which generates as much heat as abortion, evolution, and border control.  One gentleman emailed to let me know his two year old daughter had more intelligence than I.  Another suggested a park where he wanted to meet me . . . after dark.  I don’t think he wanted to look for owls.

Two images, both taken recently by birding friends at GRA suggested it was time to revisit the feral cat problem there.  The first is a picture of a large cat walking along the edge of one of the basins with a female Mallard in its mouth.  The other is of a Turkey Vulture eviscerating the carcass of a dead cat.  This is not a "Cats 1, Birds 1" score.  It’s really a lose/lose scenario, and it’s difficult for me to believe any cat lover doesn’t see it in that light.  Here are two facts.  Outdoor cats kill birds.  Outdoor cats live short, dangerous lives.

Though some birders are unapologetic cat haters, that label does not fit me.  Recall that in my previous cat column (jimburnsphotos.com/pages/7-18-08.html) I wrote that I would probably have a cat, an INDOOR cat, if I were not allergic to them.  Arizona Game and Fish has recently distributed a brochure by the American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors! Campaign (abcbirds.org/cats) with numerous suggestions how to keep your cat happy indoors.  And indoor cat owners should be happy too, knowing they don’t have to worry about disease, parasites, coyotes and owls, cars, and poison, all things that make life tenuous for free roaming cats.

The brochure also quotes statistics from two recent surveys.  One, conducted by the University of Arizona, followed five suburban outdoor house cats (is that an oxymoron, or what?) for four months.  These five cats killed 113 animals in that period.  The second queried Arizona wildlife rehabilitators and reported 80% of the small birds they received were caught by cats.  Cats are described as “efficient predators” and studies have proven they kill when they are not hungry, when they are belled, and when they are declawed.  Cats are killers.  They kill because they can.  Indoor cats can’t.

Over the years several programs to remove the feral cats from GRA have been proposed and discussed, but none has gotten off the ground because the Gilbert Riparian Institute has their hands tied by the Mayor and City Council of Gilbert who are currently "pro cat."  TNR (trap, neuter, release) programs, even if proven to work, which they haven't been, would be ineffectual at GRA because more pets are being dumped by foreclosed home owners.  GRA is now considered a Cat Colony, and the feral cats there are being fed by well meaning but misguided cat lovers.  Kittens are routinely observed.  Birds and cats continue to die.

If you would like to see the cats removed from GRA, please email Gilbert Mayor John Lewis at john.lewis@gilbertaz.gov and add your name to the growing numbers who don't want to see this unique and beautiful suburban recreational area overrun with feral cats.  Mention one or two reasons why.  Be respectful and tactful.  Do not use shrill or inflammatory language.  And if you consider yourself a cat lover, please keep your cat indoors and don't feed feral cats.