While the cat (feral or otherwise) versus bird argument has been actively pursued since the 1970's, it came to a head in November of 2006, with the case of "Mama Cat" in Galveston, TX. She was a free roaming semi-feral cat who was living under a bridge in Galveston, and being fed by an elderly toll worker. She was murdered by a local bird guide because of the possibility of the hunting threat. The killer, James Stevenson, claimed the cat was such a threat to the local endagnered bird (piping plovers) that killing Mama Cat was a public service. Stevenson was eventually indicted on charges of animal cruelty, and the press picked up on the story, bringing national light to this decades old debate. There were phrases thrown around like "cats are a scourge on our landscape" and "manmade killing machines". Cat lovers fired back with words "evil Galveston bird lover" and "serial cat killer".
None of this happened in a vaccum, the Galveston incident was just one highly publicized skirmish in a decades-long fight between conservationists and cat advocates. Again, the question was posed, "Do we save the cats or the birds". To people like Stevenson, his commitment was clear, he told the Wall Street Journal, "I had to choose who dies". Cat Haven Ranch belongs to the dedicated group of people who believe that such a choice does not have to be made. Compassion and cooperation can prove that we don't have to choose one animal over another.
Many animal adovocate organizations, such as the Audubon Society of Portland (ASP), realize that its "not about birds versus cats; its about protecting birds and cats". This was not a typical statement from a wildlife organization, but ASP conservation direction Bob Sallinger defies some of the stereotypes animal advocates have about conservationists. In this day and age, both animal advocates and conservationists are skeptical of lethal control solutions aimed at protection one species from another. Many audobon societies, like ASP in Oregon acknowledge that while they receive a steady flow of birds who were a victim of a house cat attack, this is only one their bird decline population problems. The cause in any local decline of bird populations is usually multi faceted. The new approach - partnering feral cat advocates with bird advocates - is the management of feral cat colonies, and a push towards encouraging inside pet cats. The purpose of this partnership was to stop targeting feral cats, rather focus on constructive colony management, population control, and education.
Key to such collaborations is a willingness to set aside grudges, refrain from superficial squabbling, and acknowledge the validaity of both sides concerns. Conservationsists have been guilty of throwing around "fake science" that exaggerates feline predation on wildlife. Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) advocates have often refused to acknolwedge that cats may significantly impact some bird populations.
Setting up a managed feral cat colony dictates that all animal/conservation groups must work together for alignment. Geographical location for the establishment of a colony is vital, for example, Cat Haven Ranch is far away from any local bird sanctuary, and there are no endangered bird speciies in our local area. While there are common local birds that sometimes fall victim to a member of our herd, it is typically because the bird has tried to locate a nest within 20-30' of one of our primary feeding stations.
Ironically, the polarizing Galveston cat killing carries a constructive message for cat and bird advocates. Stevenson's trial ended up in a mistrial mainly because they had such a challenge finding people to sit on the jury who did not feel like this was a complete waste of time. "They couldn't believe they got called down to court to talk about a bird and a cat". It's a reality that both sides should keep in mind. The enemies of cat defenders and bird protectors aren't each other, but the portion of the public that considers these issues too trivial for serious consideration. People who care about animals - domestic, wile, or in-between - can't afford to be divided.
It is our experience at Cat Haven Ranch that a very small percentage of the herd members are actually "hunters". Since we have dedicated feeding stations, and our colony does not lack for food, they are not "driven" to hunt. We estimate that 95% of our colony are simply opportunisitic hunters, meaning they will hunt, if a bird flies in front of them. We do have some truly feral cats, that belong to the herd, but will not come down to a feeding station routinely. These few do actively hunt smaller prey animals, but it's controlled to our sanctuary land. We don't condone any killing, but we do realize that our colony members are just doing what is instinctive to them. There have been some instances of us saving some prey animals, and we do that every chance we get. We will and have relocated some young birds and squirrels to Morningstar Wildlife Rehab center when we had the chance to save them.