Pete Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, is pushing a controversial conservation idea: as the single-biggest man-made danger to bird and small mammal populations in the United States, outdoor and feral cat populations should be controlled, either by keeping pets inside or by euthanasia and sterilize-and-return programs. Rachel E. Gross tells his story at Smithsonian Magazine.
Marra tells the story of Tibbles the cat, who traveled with her owner to an untouched island south of New Zealand in 1894. There, she single-pawedly caused the extinction of the Stephens Island wren, a small, flightless bird found only in that part of the world. Most cats aren’t as deadly as Tibbles, but your average outdoor pet cat still kills around two animals per week, according to the Wildlife Society and the American Bird Conservancy. The solution for these cats is simple, says Marra: Bring them indoors. The Humane Society of the United States agrees.
For Marra, it is clear that outdoor cats represent the Silent Spring of our time. Not only are cats the single worst threat to birds caused directly by humans, but they are also the easiest problem to fix, as compared to many-leveled threats like climate change. For him, it is obvious what we must do. Yet he is also starting to understand the challenge of making others see the world as he does. “To me, this should be the low-hanging fruit,” he says. “But as it turns out, it might be easier stopping climate change than stopping cats.”