September 7, 2012

New Hot Topic Of Debate: Cat Person Or Bird Person?

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A new political debate to throw up on Facebook has nothing to do with a political party, but everything to do with being a "cat person" or "bird person."

A study published in the journal PLoS ONE shows that "cat people" and "bird people" have heated differences of opinion, which complicates the challenge of trying to manage the 50 million free-roaming feral cats while protecting threatened wildlife.

The study started as a hands-on class project for undergraduate and graduate students in Dr. Nils Peterson's Human Dimensions of Wildlife course at North Carolina State University last year.

The team surveyed 577 people in the U.S. who identified themselves as cat colony caretakers or bird conservation professionals affiliated with groups like the Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy.

"Members of both these groups feel they have concerns that have been ignored," Peterson, an associate professor of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology in the College of Natural Resources, said in a statement. "This feeling of injustice is part of what leads them to identity with their groups."

Bird conservation professionals see feral cats as threats to the survival of wild birds, while cat colony caretakers dedicate themselves to caring for neighborhood animals.

The two types of people have opposite points of view in responses to statements about feral cat managements, and they disagree about the impact of feral cats on wildlife.

Only 9%of cat colony caretakers believe cats harm bird populations, and only 6% believe feral cats carried diseases.

Colony caretakers supported treating feral cats as protected wildlife and using trap, neuter, and release programs to manage feral cat populations.

Bird conservation professionals saw feral cats as pests and supported removing and euthanizing them. Women and older respondents within both groups were less likely to support euthanasia.

"The most surprising result was that cat colony caretakers were more amenable to seeking collaborative solutions to feral cat management than bird conservation professionals," Peterson said in the statement. "Eighty percent of the cat caretakers thought it was possible, while fifty percent of the bird conservationists felt that it was."

He said part of the solution is to get cat colony caretakers involved in deciding which data should be collected and how and where it should be done.

Participants should be able to see results for themselves rather than rely on reports from another group.

By observing feral cats killing wildlife first hand rather than reading studies that show the cats contribute to global declines among the songbird populations might be one way to change the cat lovers' minds.

Another possibility, Peterson said, is to train cat colony caretakers to recognize parasites or signs of disease in the animals they see regularly.

He also recommends that the groups recognize that they share common ground of caring about animals. Half of the bird conservation professionals owned and cared for their cats.

He hopes his students have gained ideas they can use in dealing with conservation and environmental issues.