Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier, dit le renard. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
Le Petit Prince, chap. 21

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Behaviour of village dogs in coastal Mexico

Ruiz-Izaguirre, E., Eilers, K., Bokkers, E. A., Ortolani, A., Ortega-Pacheco, A., & de Boer, I. J. (2014). Human–dog interactions and behavioural responses of village dogs in coastal villages in Michoacán, Mexico. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

In Mexican villages, most households keep dogs that roam freely. Therefore, socialisation of village dogs occurs in a different context than that of companion dogs in developed countries. The objectives of this study x: (1) to assess village dogs’ behavioural responses towards familiar and unfamiliar humans, (2) to compare body condition of dogs living in a village with a seasonal trade in international tourism (IT-village) with dogs living in a village located in the vicinity of a sea-turtle nesting site (STN-village), and (3) to identify whether dog characteristics influence dog behaviour and body condition.

Two coastal villages in Michoacán, Mexico, were selected as case study sites. Fifty-nine dogs were initially visited, 35 of which were repeatedly visited during the high and low seasons for international tourism and sea-turtle nesting. Caregivers were interviewed regarding human–dog interactions, and dogs were behaviourally tested and rated for body condition. Behavioural indicators were: 1) the dog's qualitative response to a caregiver's call and 2) the dog's willingness to approach an unfamiliar human. Additionally, a dog census per village was conducted to ascertain the dog population structure. Dogs were kept by over 60% of households in both villages. Body condition was optimal for 68% of the dogs. In the low season, dogs in the STN-village had better body condition than dogs in IT-village (P = 0.007). Dog characteristics that influenced behavioural responses were: sex, age, and whether the dog played with humans. The most common response to the caregiver's call was tail wagging, shown by 83% of male dogs and 50% of female dogs (P=0.021). About 70% of the pups approached the unfamiliar human completely, whereas only 24% of the juveniles (P =0.040) and 26% of the adults did so (P =0.026). Human–dog play was reported to occur mainly with children (77%). The percentage of dogs that played with humans was higher in dogs responding with tail wagging (82%) than in dogs showing the rest of the response categories (withdrawal, baring teeth, and other) (50%) (P =0.012). Human—dog play was reported for 85% of the male dogs compared to 55% of the female dogs (P=0.036). This study showed that village dogs were socialised to familiar humans but were not attracted to unfamiliar humans. Village dogs maintained their body condition in the low season. Child–dog play may have a role in shaping village dog social behaviour towards humans.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Pet cats' impact on prey populations

Barratt, D. 1994. Using theory and scientific experience to assess the impact of house-based domestic cats Felis catus (L.) on prey populations and prey community structure. Urban animal management conference proceedings - Canberra. Australia.

This paper attempts to apply theory from more than 100 years of scientific experience and experimentation in predator-prey ecology and introduced species ecology to predict the likely effects of predation by domestic cats (Felis catus) on prey populations and community structure. Those aspects of the predatory behaviour of domestic cats which are of most importance in predicting their impact on prey populations: I) the degree of prey selectivity or 'dietary preference'; 2) the exhibition of switching behaviour; 3) changes in predatory activity in response to changes in prey density; and 4) the extent to which high and constant densities of the predator are ameliorated by reduced prey consumption rates as a result of dietary supplement.
In suburban environments, the influence of predation by domestic cats on prey abundance and community structure probably increases, relative to the influence of habitat change, with increasing suburb age, particularly in the absence of physical disturbances such as fire. However, it may never be as important as habitat availability and indeed may never be significant at all. Removal of the predator may allow some animal species to increase in abundance but others may decline. The details of these changes are very difficult to predict. Similarly, following predator removal, total species diversity is as likely to decline due to increased inter-specific competition, as it is to increase due to the invasion of species previously excluded by predation.
In remnant habitat, the impact of predation by domestic cats is probably less likely to be important in determining the relative abundance of the more common species than in suburban environments, but more likely to contribute to local extinctions of rare species. As in suburban environments, predation on introduced species in remnant habitat may reduce predation on native species. However, the ability of domestic cats to control introduced species which prey on, or compete with, native species will be difficult to demonstrate. In light of this uncertainty, any attempt to prevent domestic cats hunting in remnant habitat patches should be integrated with a program to eliminate or control populations of other introduced species, such as black rats and rabbits, which are preyed upon by domestic cats and are known to prey on or compete with native species.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Ecology of a feral cat population in rural Northern Italy

Genovesi, P., Besa, M., & Toso, S. (1995). Ecology of a feral cat Felis catus population in an agricultural area of northern Italy. Wildlife Biology, 1: 233-237.

The ecology of a feral cat population in an intensively cultivated region of northern Italy was studied. The study area is a land accretion territory, reclaimed in the early 1970s, characterised by the absence of any food source of human origin (e.g. garbage dumps, farms, houses) and surrounded by a continuous irrigation channel that is likely to limit immigration/emigration of cats. The cat population was censused for two successive years using the sighting-resighting method; spacing patterns were studied by means of radio-telemetry; hunting behaviour was assessed by observation. Feral cats avoided any direct contact with humans, and reproduced in the wild. The density of the population remained stable throughout the study period. Turnover appeared very high, and was remarkably higher than that of cats regularly fed by humans. Very low densities, large home range sizes, solitary habits, territorial patterns similar to those of the wildcat, seasonal parturition, and prevalence of hunting activity were found. We speculate that these patterns are related to the peculiar conditions of resource availability and dispersion in the study area. Our results indicate that feral cats, even in agricultural areas and in the absence of any food provided by humans, have solitary habits and low densities, thus confirming a key role of resource availability and dispersion on the ecology of carnivores.

Cats on Dassen Island

Apps, P. 1984. Cats on Dassen Island. Acta Zool. Fennica, 172: 115-116.

Dassen Island, a small island off the west coast of South Africa, is an important nesting site for sea birds. Introduced mammals include Felis catus and Oryctolagus cuniculus. Studies on the ecological impact of the feral cat population showed that birds and rabbits contributed almost equally to the diet of the cats, but that most of the birds were scavenged, so that the impact of cat predation on their populations was insignificant, while rabbits were hunted and the effect may have been ecologically important. The cats' ecological role was influenced strongly by their behaviour, which must be considered in the planning of conservation or control measures.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Complex interactions between wolves and dogs

Lescureux, N., & Linnell, J. D. (2014). Warring brothers: The complex interactions between wolves (Canis lupus) and dogs (Canis familiaris) in a conservation context. Biological Conservation, 171, 232-245.

Although both wolves and dogs have been the subjects of numerous studies in many disciplines, the complex relationships between them have not yet been synthesized within a common review, and neither has it been placed in a holistic conservation context. Information and data are spread across numerous publications from different disciplines that rarely interact. Dogs have become the most common carnivore and their population is still increasing. In a context of wolf recovery in multi-use landscapes, there is a growing concern among conservationists for the potential negative impact of dogs on wolf conservation. With this paper we aim to review the numerous and complex interactions existing between wolves and dogs, using literature from disciplines as diverse as history, archeology, anthropology, genetics, ecology, and epidemiology in order to better understand the wolf–dog relationship and its potential impact on wolf conservation. Starting with their phylogenetic relationship and following a summary of the current knowledge on the dog’s ancestry we explore how dogs can represent a direct threat for wolves through hybridization, disease transfer and competition. The review highlights a number of ways in which dogs can impact wolf conservation, although a general lack of data and conclusive studies is a common theme that emerges for many topics. Then we analyse how dogs can mitigate human–wolf conflicts through their role as livestock guardians or wolf hunters. Finally we describe the complex phenomenon of wolf predation on dogs before discussing the wolf–dog relationships in general, with a special focus on including a more anthropological perspective. The review highlights the diversity of interactions between wolves and dogs, that can be both negative and positive for wolf conservation. However, more important than these direct impacts, the review highlights how the wolf–dog relationship challenges human attempts to construct simple dichotomies between wild and domestic, or between nature and culture. The borders between these concepts are in fact much more fluid and elusive than is often appreciated, and wolf conservation must adapt to this more complex reality.

See more on hybridization between dogs and wild canids 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Monitoring feral dog’s population at Isla de Cedros

García-Aguilar, M.C. 2012. Monitoring feral dog’s population at Isla de Cedros, Baja California, and the associated threats over native mastofauna. Acta Zoológica Mexicana (n. s.), 28(1): 37-48.

Monitoring introduced species is an important management tool in order to preserve native species. The aim of this study was to monitor the feral dog’s population in Isla de Cedros and to identify actual and potential threats of their presence over the native mastofauna. Data were collected at two sampling areas of the island, the Northeast Coast (CNE) and the Central-South Region (RCS). Dog’s distribution pattern and density was assess using a non-invasive method based on scat counts along transect surveys and relative density (R) and faecal relative abundance index (fRAI) were estimated. Dog’s diet composition was evaluated by scat analysis. Both R and fRAI were significant greater (P < 0.05) in the CNE than in the RCS. The results showed that feral dogs are feeding from at least three endemic terrestrial mammal species (the mule deer, the brush rabbit, and the Anthony’s pocket mouse) and two pinnipeds species (the northern elephant seal and the California sea lion). With this study provide a useful baseline for future comparison and monitoring and control purposes. Nevertheless, it is necessary to conduct studies about the dog’s feeding behavior to measure their predatory activity and to assess the associated damage level. Also, due to the fact that interactions between dogs and pinnipeds appeared frequently and because they are phylogenetically related, the greatest threat of the dog’s presence is that it could be a disease vector, with serious health outcomes for the wildlife.

García-Aguilar, M. C. 2012. Monitoreo de la población de perros ferales en la Isla de Cedros, Baja California, y las amenazas a la mastofauna nativa. Acta Zoológica Mexicana (n. s.), 28(1): 37-48.

El monitoreo de especies introducidas es una herramienta importante para preservar las especies nativas. El objetivo de este estudio fue monitorear a la población de perros ferales en la Isla de Cedros e identificar las amenazas actuales y potenciales de su presencia sobre la mastofauna nativa. La colecta de datos se realizó en dos áreas de la isla, la costa noreste (CNE) y la región centro-sur (RCS). Los patrones de distribución y la densidad de los perros se determinaron con un método no invasivo basado en el conteo de excretas a lo largo de transectos y se estimó la densidad relativa (R) y el índice de abundancia relativa fecal (fRAI). La composición de la dieta se evaluó por medio del análisis de las excretas. Tanto los valores de R como de fRAI fueron significativamente mayores (P < 0.05) en CNE que en RCS. Los resultados mostraron que los perros se alimentan de al menos tres especies de mamíferos endémicos (el venado bura, el conejo matorralero y el ratón de abazones de Cedros) y de dos especies de pinnípedos (el elefante marino del norte y el lobo marino de California). A partir de este estudio se cuenta con una línea de base que podrá ser usada en los programas de control y monitoreo futuros. Sin embargo, es necesario desarrollar estudios sobre el comportamiento alimentario de los perros para evaluar su actividad predatoria y medir el nivel de daño asociado; además, dado que las interacciones entre pinnípedos y perros parecen ser frecuentes y están relacionados filogenéticamente, posiblemente la mayor amenaza de la presencia de los perros sea la propagación de enfermedades infeccionas, con graves resultados para la vida silvestre.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Efficacy of an ultrasonic cat deterrent

Nelson, S. H., Evans, A. D., & Bradbury, R. B. (2006). The efficacy of an ultrasonic cat deterrent. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 96(1), 83-91.

Ultrasound deterrents for a variety of mammals, including cats, are widely available in the commercial market, but few have been independently tested for efficacy. This study tested the efficacy of an ultrasonic cat deterrent ‘Catwatch©’, using 63 and 96 volunteer observers in two long-running (18 and 33 weeks) blind experiments. Results indicated that the device did have a moderate deterrent effect, reducing the probability of a cat intrusion into a garden by approximately 32% in the first experiment, but not in the second. The average duration of intrusions was reduced by approximately 38 and 22% in the two experiments, respectively. The magnitude of the deterrent effect appeared to increase with time, since the device was deployed. It is likely that the size of the deterrent effect could be increased by positioning the device(s) more carefully with regard to entry points to the garden that are regularly used by cats.

Cat nabbed raiding "the mothership"

Monday, 17 February 2014

Acceptability of proposed cat regulations in Australia

Lilith, M., Calver, M., Styles, I., & Garkaklis, M. (2006). Protecting wildlife from predation by owned domestic cats: application of a precautionary approach to the acceptability of proposed cat regulations. Austral Ecology, 31(2), 176-189.

While it is undeniable that owned domestic cats Felis catus (Mammalia: Felidae) kill large numbers of wildlife, it is contentious if this has significant impacts on wildlife populations. Under the precautionary principle such uncertainty does not preclude measures to reduce putative risk, but action should follow consultation with stakeholders. To initiate such consultation for the City of Armadale, Western Australia, we surveyed urban and rural residents to determine their opinions regarding putative impacts of owned cats on wildlife and the acceptability of proposed regulations. Key statements accepted by 70% or more of respondents, irrespective of their residence, gender or cat ownership status, included: (i) there is a need to regulate owned domestic cats; (ii) the presence of cats in nature reserves is harmful to wildlife; (iii) cats not owned by licensed breeders should be desexed; and (iv) local councils should be empowered to restrict the maximum number of cats per household. Seventy per cent or more of owners agreed to keep their cats on their property from sunset to sunrise and to register them if these measures became compulsory. All groups except urban men also indicated 70% or greater willingness to keep their cats on their property constantly if required. However, fewer than 40% of owners supported empowering local councils to enforce cat-free zones. In this community, cat regulation excluding cat-free zones should enjoy support. Similar approaches should be effective wherever the environmental impacts of owned domestic cats are debated, because compliance with such regulations should be high.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Predation of Birds at Feeders in Winter

Dunn, E. H., & Tessaglia, D. L. (1994). Predation of Birds at Feeders in Winter (Depredación de Aves en Comederos Durante el Invierno). Journal of Field Ornithology, 65 (1) 8-16.

A continentwide survey of homes with bird feeders produced 567 reports documenting 1138 incidents of predation. Of the 25 species of predators recorded, three (Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus; domestic cat; Cooper's Hawk, A cooperii) were responsible for 80% of the incidents in which the predator was known. Ten of the 62 species of prey identified accounted for 92% of all victims. The birds most vulnerable to predation were those that commonly occur at feeders throughout the continent (i.e., the most widespread species), but additionally, flocking species were more vulnerable to avian predators than more solitary ones. Prey size was correlated to size of avian predators, but cats concentrated on small birds. Hawks were attracted to feeders with particularly high levels of bird activity, but cats were not. The bird-feeding environment does not appear to expose birds to a higher risk of predation than is encountered in the absence of feeders.

Se hizo una encuesta, a nivel continental, en residencias en donde se les provee de comederos a aves, que produjo 567 informes en los cuales se documentan 1138 incidentes de depredación. De las 25 especies de depredadores informados tres de éstos, a saber Accipiter striatus, A. cooperii y el gato doméstico, fueron responsables del 80% de los incidentes en donde el depredador fue identificado. Diez de las 62 especies que sirvieron como presas, formaron el 92% de todas las víctimas. Las aves más vulnerables a la depredación fueron aquellas que más comúnmente utilizan comederos artificiales a nivel continental (ej. las especies más ampliamente distribuidas). No obstante las aves que se alimentan en grupos resultaron más vulnerables que las que lo hacen de forma solitaria. El tamaño de la presa se correlacionó al tamaño del depredador, aunque los gatos concentraron sus esfuerzos en aves pequeñas. Los halcones fueron atraídos a comederos, con altos niveles de actividad aviar, mientras que ocurrió lo opuesto con los gatos. Los ambientes en donde hay comederos artificiales no parecen exponer a las aves a un riesgo mayor de depredación, que en lugares en donde éstos no se encuentran.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Semi-ownership and sterilisation of cats and dogs in Thailand

Toukhsati, S. R., Phillips, C. J., Podberscek, A. L., & Coleman, G. J. (2012). Semi-Ownership and Sterilisation of Cats and Dogs in Thailand. Animals, 2(4), 611-627.

The aim of this study was to identify the prevalence of cat and dog semi-ownership in Thailand and factors that predict sterilisation. Semi-ownership was defined as interacting/caring for a companion animal that the respondent does not own, such as a stray cat or dog. A randomised telephone survey recruited 494 Thai nationals residing in Thailand. The findings revealed that 14% of respondents (n = 71) engaged in dog semi-ownership and only 17% of these dogs had been sterilised. Similarly, 11% of respondents (n = 55) engaged in cat semi-ownership and only 7% were known to be sterilised. Using Hierarchical Multiple Regression, the findings showed that 62% and 75% of the variance in intentions to sterilise semi-owned dogs and cats, respectively, was predicted by religious beliefs, and psychosocial factors such as attitudes, perceived pressure from others, and perceived behavioural control. Community awareness campaigns that approach the issue of sterilisation in a way that is consistent with cultural and religious traditions using Thai role models, such as veterinarians, may go some way in reducing stray animal population growth.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Home range of neutered cats

Guttilla, D. A., & Stapp, P. (2010). Effects of sterilization on movements of feral cats at a wildland-urban interface. Journal of Mammalogy, 91(2), 482-489.

Trap–neuter–release (TNR) programs, in which feral cats are sterilized and fed in unconfined colonies, have been advocated as a humane and effective way to reduce the impacts of feral cats on native wildlife. Little is known, however, about the effects of sterilization on feral cat movements and space use, particularly where colonies are located near natural areas. We determined home-range area and overlap and characterized the long-range movements of 14 sterilized and 13 intact radiocollared cats on Catalina Island, California, from 2002 to 2004. Male home ranges were significantly larger than those of females, but no significant differences were revealed in home-range areas or overlap between sterilized and intact cats. Cats regularly moved between natural habitats in the interior of the island and human-populated areas regardless of sex or treatment status, although most (68%; 17/25) of the cats that moved long distances were female. Island-wide, the cat population was estimated to be 600–750 cats, with >70% associated with developed areas, including existing TNR colonies. The influx of subsidized cats to natural habitats, combined with their high vagility and low trappability, makes TNR an unlikely solution for controlling feral cats on a large, rugged island like Catalina and, more generally, in other locations where human populations abut ecologically sensitive areas.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Habitat selection of feral cats on Stewart island

Harper, G. A. (2007). Habitat selection of feral cats (Felis catus) on a temperate, forested island. Austral Ecology, 32(3), 305-314.

Habitat selection of mammalian predators is known to be influenced by availability and distribution of prey. The habitat selection of feral cats on Stewart Island, southern New Zealand, was investigated using telemetry of radio-tagged cats. Compositional analysis of the habitat selection of radio-tagged cats showed they were using the available habitats non-randomly. Feral cats avoided subalpine shrubland and preferentially selected podocarp-broadleaf forest. The avoidance of subalpine shrubland by cats was probably due to a combination of the presence of a large aggressive prey species, Norway rats Rattus norvegicus, and the lack of rain-impervious shelter there. Most cats also used subalpine shrubland more often in dry weather than in wet weather. Cats did not preferentially select all the other habitats with only smaller rat species, Rattus rattus and Rattus exulans, present however. Cats were probably further influenced by the availability of large trees, in podocarp-broadleaf forest, that can provide shelter. Cats were also more active in dry rather than wet weather which supports this conclusion. Home ranges of feral cats on Stewart Island were some of the largest recorded, probably because of limited primary and alternative prey.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Population dynamics of feral cats in relation to prey abundance

Harper, G. A. (2005). Numerical and functional response of feral cats (Felis catus) to variations in abundance of primary prey on Stewart Island (Rakiura), New Zealand. Wildlife Research, 32(7), 597-604.

Few studies of populations of feral cats have simultaneously monitored the seasonal abundance of primary prey and the possible ‘prey-switch’ to alternative prey when primary prey abundance declines. On Stewart Island, when the abundance of feral cats’ primary prey, rats (Rattus spp.), was very low, significantly more cats died or left the study area than when rats were abundant. Cats preferentially preyed on rats regardless of rat abundance. Birds were the main alternative prey but cats did not prey-switch to birds when rat abundance was low, possibly owing to the difficulty of capture, and small mass, of birds compared with rats. On Stewart Island numbers of feral cats are restricted by seasonal depressions in abundance of their primary prey, coupled with limited alternative prey biomass.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Cat predation on Yelkouan shearwater

Bonnaud, E., Bourgeois, K., Vidal, E., Legrand, J., & Le Corre, M. (2009). How can the Yelkouan shearwater survive feral cat predation? A meta-population structure as a solution?. Population ecology, 51(2), 261-270.

The Yelkouan shearwater, Puffinus yelkouan, is an endangered Mediterranean endemic species of burrowing petrel threatened by feral cats. The life-history parameters of a small population of Yelkouan shearwaters on the Mediterranean island, Port-Cros, were studied in conjunction with the diet of feral cats, to examine the birds’ vulnerability to introduced cats. Yelkouan shearwaters were the birds most frequently found in cat scats, with 431 ± 72 birds killed per year, and predation highest during the pre-laying period. A demographic model was created using data for P. yelkouan and for closely related shearwater species. Without cat predation, only two of four survival rate scenarios led to a mean growth rate (λ) ≥ 1. The model was constrained to have a stable population growth rate and used to predict predation scenarios compatible with the observed population stability, because the population under study has remained stable at around 180 pairs for at least 20 years despite feral cat predation. The results of assuming that the population is closed were inconsistent with the estimated mortalities due to feral cats, while it was possible to reconcile the observed numbers of breeding pairs with the observed mortalities due to cats by assuming that Port-Cros Island is a sink sustained by immigration. This illustrates that small colonies may need to be sustained by larger ones to avoid being driven to extinction. Unfortunately, the absence of a large geographic-scale ringing program makes the precise identification of the origin of the immigrants impossible in this case.

Domestic mammals transmit parasites to native mammals better than feral mammals

Landaeta-Aqueveque, C., Henríquez, A., & Cattan, P. E. (2014). Introduced species: domestic mammals are more significant transmitters of parasites to native mammals than are feral mammals. International Journal for Parasitology.

The study of parasitism related to biological invasion has focused on attributes and impacts of parasites as invaders and the impact of introduced hosts on endemic parasitism. Thus, there is currently no study of the attributes of hosts which influence the invasiveness of parasites. We aimed to determine whether the degree of domestication of introduced mammalian species – feral introduced mammals, livestock or pets, hereafter ‘D’ – is important in the spillover of introduced parasites. The literature on introduced parasites of mammals in Chile was reviewed. We designed an index for estimating the relevance of the introduced host species to parasite spillover and determined whether the D of introduced mammals predicted this index. A total of 223 introduced parasite species were found. Our results indicate that domestic mammals have a higher number of introduced parasites and spillover parasites, and the index indicates that these mammals, particularly pets, are more relevant introducers than introduced feral mammals. Further analyses indicated that the higher impact is due to higher parasite richness, a longer time since introduction and wider dispersal, as well as how these mammals are maintained. The greater relevance of domestic mammals is important given that they are basically the same species distributed worldwide and can become the main transmitters of parasites to native mammals elsewhere. This finding also underlines the feasibility of management in order to reduce the transmission of parasites to native fauna through anti-parasitic treatment of domestic mammals, animal-ownership education and the prevention of importing new parasite species.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Owners' attitude contribution to stray cat overpopulation

Finkler, H., & Terkel, J. (2012). The contribution of cat owners’ attitudes and behaviours to the free-roaming cat overpopulation in Tel Aviv, Israel. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 104(1), 125-135.

The attitudes and behaviours of cat owners in regard to treatment of cats may have a cumulative effect on the food availability, reproduction, density and welfare of the free-roaming cat population and thus also on the extent of cat overpopulation. Understanding this is thus a vital step in the a priori planning of cat management programs on any scale, as well as in developing public education programs on this issue. Although recent years have seen an accumulation of knowledge in regard to cat owners’ attitudes and behaviours, the findings vary among countries and locations and in Israel this has never been investigated systematically. Using a questionnaire provided to cat owners in veterinary clinics, this study aimed at identifying those attitudes and behaviours that may be contributing to cat overpopulation in Tel Aviv, Israel, and at exploring the socio-economic factors that influence this problem. The findings show that the influential factors can be predicted from the cat owners’ socio-economic status, mainly education and income, as well as gender and age. A consistency in those cat owner behaviours that contribute to cat overpopulation was also uncovered, revealing a sub-population of individuals who persist in the undesirable behaviours. Finally, a strong relationship between attitude and consequent behaviour was demonstrated, indicating the importance of education and targeted publicity as a means to influence attitudes and thereby change behaviours in this respect. We propose several measures by which to reduce the current extent of cat owners’ contribution to the cat overpopulation: discouraging unwanted owner behaviours such as abandonment of their cats and allowing them to breed; promoting awareness of the neutering option among cat caretakers; and increasing pre-adoption neutering rates in shelters. Regional and national laws promoting responsible pet ownership need to be enacted. By improving the current level of knowledge and awareness among cat owners regarding cat overpopulation issues, and encouraging a more responsible attitude, cat owners’ bond with their cats could be strengthened, as well as their bond with and contribution to their environment

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Exurban development brings cats and dogs and changes bird communities

Maestas, J. D., Knight, R. L., & Gilgert, W. C. (2003). Biodiversity across a Rural Land‐Use Gradient. Conservation Biology, 17(5), 1425-1434.

Private lands in the American West are undergoing a land-use conversion from agriculture to exurban development, although little is known about the ecological consequences of this change. Some nongovernmental organizations are working with ranchers to keep their lands out of development and in ranching, ostensibly because they believe biodiversity is better protected on ranches than on exurban developments. However, there are several assumptions underlying this approach that have not been tested. To better inform conservation efforts, we compared avian, mesopredator, and plant communities across the gradient of intensifying human uses from nature reserves to cattle ranches to exurban developments. We conducted surveys at randomly selected points on each type of land use in one Colorado watershed between May and August of 2000 and 2001. Seven bird species, characterized as human commensals or tree nesters, reached higher densities (all p < 0.02) on exurban developments than on either ranches or reserves. Six bird species, characterized as ground and shrub nesters, reached greater densities (all p < 0.015) on ranches, reserves, or both of these types of land use than on exurban developments. Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and house cats (Felis catus) were encountered almost exclusively on exurban developments, whereas coyotes (Canis latrans) were detected more frequently (p = 0.047) on ranchlands than exurban developments. Ranches had plant communities with higher native species richness and lower non-native species richness and cover than did the other types of land use (all p < 0.10). Our results support the notion that ranches are important for protecting biodiversity and suggest that future conservation efforts may require less reliance on reserves and a greater focus on private lands.


Los terrenos privados del oeste de América están experimentando una conversión del suelo de un uso agrícola a un uso urbano, aunque se conoce poco acerca de las consecuencias ecológicas de este cambio. Algunas organizaciones no gubernamentales están trabajando con granjeros para que sus tierras permanezcan sin urbanizar, ostensiblemente porque piensan que la biodiversidad se protege mejor en tierras rurales que en urbanizaciones. Sin embargo, hay varios supuestos subyacentes a este modelo que no han sido comprobadas. Para informarnos mejor sobre los esfuerzos de conservación, comparamos comunidades de aves, mesodepredadores y plantas a lo largo del gradiente de intensidad de uso humano de reservas naturales, granjas y zonas de urbanización. Realizamos muestreos en sitios seleccionados aleatoriamente en cada uso de suelo en una cuenca del Colorado entre mayo y agosto de 2000 y 2001. Siete especies de aves, caracterizadas como comensales humanos o nidificantes arbóreos, alcanzaron densidades más altas (todas p < 0.02) en urbanizaciones nuevas que en granjas o reservas. Seis especies de aves, caracterizadas como nidificantes de suelo y arbustos, alcanzaron densidades mayores (todas p < 0.015) en granjas, reservas o usos mixtos del suelo que en las nuevas urbanizaciones. Se encontraron perros (Canis familiaris) y gatos (Felis catus) domésticos casi exclusivamente en nuevas urbanizaciones, mientras que se detectaron coyotes (Canis latrans) más frecuentemente (p = 0.047) en granjas que en nuevas urbanizaciones. Las granjas tenían comunidades de plantas con mayor riqueza de especies nativas y menor riqueza y cobertura de especies no nativas que en todos los demás usos de suelo (todas p < 0.10). Nuestros resultados apoyan la noción de que las granjas son importantes para la protección de la biodiversidad y sugieren que los futuros esfuerzos de conservación pueden requerir de menos confianza en las reservas y un mayor enfoque en terrenos privados.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Self-domestication of cats and dogs

Driscoll, C. A., Macdonald, D. W., & O'Brien, S. J. (2009). From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(Supplement 1), 9971-9978.

Artificial selection is the selection of advantageous natural variation for human ends and is the mechanism by which most domestic species evolved. Most domesticates have their origin in one of a few historic centers of domestication as farm animals. Two notable exceptions are cats and dogs. Wolf domestication was initiated late in the Mesolithic when humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Those wolves less afraid of humans scavenged nomadic hunting camps and over time developed utility, initially as guards warning of approaching animals or other nomadic bands and soon thereafter as hunters, an attribute tuned by artificial selection. The first domestic cats had limited utility and initiated their domestication among the earliest agricultural Neolithic settlements in the Near East. Wildcat domestication occurred through a self-selective process in which behavioral reproductive isolation evolved as a correlated character of assortative mating coupled to habitat choice for urban environments. Eurasian wildcats initiated domestication and their evolution to companion animals was initially a process of natural, rather than artificial, selection over time driven during their sympatry with forbear wildcats.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Urban and periurban mammal communities and its importance to conservation

Chupp, A. D., Roder, A. M., Battaglia, L. L., & Pagels, J. F. (2013). A case study of urban and peri-urban mammal communities: Implications for the management of National Park Service areas. Northeastern Naturalist, 20(4), 631-654.

The primary objective of this study was to compare urban and peri-urban mammal assemblages and relate variation in these communities to local differences in vegetation. We surveyed 15 locations in both urban and peri-urban habitats (n = 30). Boundaries of our survey areas coincided with those of National Park Service (NPS) areas in central Virginia. Over a 14-month period, we used five trap-types to document species in three guilds. A total of 9 and 15 species were documented at urban and peri-urban locations, respectively. Top predators Canis latrans (Coyote) and Felis rufus (Bobcat) were undetected at urban sites, while mesopredators were consistently more abundant. The absence of four small prey species and reduced abundances of the most common native generalist, Peromyscus leucopus (White-footed Mouse), were also associated with urban locations. Multivariate analyses of relative abundance data indicated significantly dissimilar mammal communities in urban and peri-urban locations. Shrub cover was highest in peri-urban locations, while grass cover was highest in urban sites—a pattern that was only marginally significant due to greater variability among these sites. The exotic grass Microstegium vimineum (Japanese Stiltgrass) was present at several urban sites and contributed to the complex relationship between percent grass cover and the small-mammal assemblages that we surveyed. Our results suggest that disturbances that reduce the recruitment of shrubs and other native plants and promote the spread of invasive grasses may have severe consequences for small-mammal communities. In addition, culturally preserved areas within both survey sites (i.e., battlefields planted with fescue grasses) were inhospitable to most small-mammal species and wildlife in general. In many NPS areas, there is great opportunity for development of adaptive management strategies that integrate ongoing NPS efforts to control invasive plant species with the enhancement of wildlife habitat in both culturally and naturally preserved areas. There is an urgent need for the conservation of native habitat in NPS areas and non-park sites threatened by urbanization. The primary focus of these efforts should include the control of exotic species and mesopredators, facilitation of native shrub recruitment, and, in many of these areas, the ecological restoration of historic sites. NPS lands in urbanized areas offer unique conditions for wildlife management and abundant opportunities for conserving native communities.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Social behaviour of free-ranging dogs

Cafazzo, S., Valsecchi, P., Bonanni, R., & Natoli, E. (2010). Dominance in relation to age, sex, and competitive contexts in a group of free-ranging domestic dogs. Behavioral Ecology, 21(3), 443-455.

Current knowledge about social behavior of free-ranging domestic dogs is scarce, and the possibility that they could form stable social groups has been highly debated. We investigated the existence of a social-dominance hierarchy in a free-ranging group of domestic dogs. We quantified the pattern of dyadic exchange of a number of behaviors to examine to what extent each behavior fits a linear rank-order model. We distinguished among agonistic dominance, formal dominance, and competitive ability. The agonistic-dominance hierarchy in the study group shows significant and substantial linearity. As in random assortments of captive wolves, there is a prominent but nonexclusive male agonistic dominance in each age class. The agonistic rank-order correlates positively and significantly with age. Submissive–affiliative behavior fulfills the criteria of formal submission signals; nevertheless, it was not observed among all dogs, and thus, it is not useful to order the dogs in a consistent linear rank. Agonistic-dominance relationships in the dog group remain stable across different competitive contexts and to the behaviors considered. Some individuals gain access to food prevailing over other dogs during competitions. Access to food resources is predicted reasonably well by agonistic rank order: High-ranking individuals have the priority of access. The findings of this research contradict the notion that free-ranging dogs are “asocial” animals and agree with other studies suggesting that long-term social bonds exist within free-ranging dog groups.

Mating and parental behaviour in free-ranging dogs

Pal, S. K. (2005). Parental care in free-ranging dogs,Canis familiarisApplied Animal Behaviour Science, 90(1), 31-47.
Parental care in free-ranging dogs was investigated in Katwa town, India. Six lactating bitches, 4 were monogamous. The gestation period varied from 62 to 65 days. Mean (±S.D.) litter size of 5.83 (±1.57) with a sex ratio of 1.69:1 in favour of male was recorded in this study. High mortality (63%) of pups occurred by the age of 3 months. Mothers were in contact with the litters for 13 weeks of the litters’ life. There was a negative correlation between the duration of mother–litter contact in any observation session and the age of the pups. Milk feeding by the mothers was continued for 10–11 weeks of the litters’ life. The duration of milk feeding in any 30-min observation session reached a maximum of 27.54 min during the 1st week and a minimum of 2.22 min during the 11th week of the litters’ life. All the mothers in this study were observed to feed the pups by regurgitation. For the first 2 weeks immediately after parturition, the lactating females were observed to be more aggressive to protect the pups. The four males (male parents) were in contact with the litters as ‘guard’ dogs for the first 6–8 weeks of litters’ life. In absence of the mothers, they were observed to prevent the approach of strangers by vocalizations or even by physical attacks. Moreover, one male fed the litter by regurgitation showing the existence of paternal care in free-roaming domestic dogs.

Pal, S. K. (2011). Mating System of Free-Ranging Dogs (Canis familiaris).International Journal of Zoology, 2011.
Fourteen females belonging to five groups were selected for the study of mating system in free-ranging domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) All the matings occurred between August and December with a peak in late monsoon months (September to November). Both males and females differed in their degree of attractiveness to the opposite sex. The duration of courting association increased with the number of courting males in an association. The females exhibited selectivity by readily permitting some males to mate and avoiding, or even attacking others, if they attempted to mount. Frequency of mounting in courting association increased with the number of males present. There was a positive correlation between the duration of courting association and the frequency of mounting. The young adult males were more likely to copulate successfully than the old adult males. There was a negative correlation between the number of males present in an association and the number of successful copulations. In this study, six types of mating (monogamy, polygyny, promiscuity, polyandry, opportunity and rape) were recorded. Mean (±S.E.) duration of copulatory ties was 25.65 (±1.43) min. Several natural factors influencing the duration of copulatory ties were identified.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Eradication of cats from Dassen island

Cooper, J. & B.M. Dyer. 2013. The eradication of feral cats from Dassen Island: a first for Africa? Aliens 33: 35-37.

Feral domestic cat Felis silvestris catus where eradicated from South Africa's Dassen Island in March 2002, following three decades of intermittent control and eradication attemps. Once the last few cats are removed from nearby Robben island, all South African islands will be free of this alien predator. Freeing Dassen islands of cats appears to be the first such succeed for the African Continent as a region.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Spacing pattern in urban cats in Italy

Natoli, E. (1985). Spacing pattern in a colony of urban stray cats (Felis catus L.) in the historic centre of Rome. Applied Animal Behaviour Science,14(3), 289-304.

Factors controlling the spatial organization of a colony of stray cats (Felis catus Linnaeus, 1758) in an urban environment were investigated. Neighbouring colonies of stray cats were also observed, but in less detail. The findings were that:

(1) the animals of the colony selected for intensive study showed an active spacing pattern, i.e. they were not randomly distributed within the boundaries of the study area;

(2) the existence of an active spacing pattern was related to the resources offered by the environment where the animals lived;

(3) these resources (food and shelter) were concentrated in some parts of the study area. Consequently, the animals used these parts more intensively than others. The observations carried out on neighbouring colonies of cats confirmed the results reported for the colony examined in detail.

Some workers consider domestic cats to be a unique resource for evolutionary studies of social behaviour because it has been shown that this species has a high degree of intra-specific variation of behaviour in contrasting habitats. The object of this study was to examine the spacing behaviour and the evolution of the domestic cat social system as a response to a particular urban environment.

Wolves are better imitators of conspecifics than dogs

Range, F. & Virányi, Z. (2014) Wolves are better imitators of conspecifics than dogs. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86559. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086559

Domestication is thought to have influenced the cognitive abilities of dogs underlying their communication with humans, but little is known about its effect on their interactions with conspecifics. Since domestication hypotheses offer limited predictions in regard to wolf-wolf compared to dog-dog interactions, we extend the cooperative breeding hypothesis suggesting that the dependency of wolves on close cooperation with conspecifics, including breeding but also territory defense and hunting, has created selection pressures on motivational and cognitive processes enhancing their propensity to pay close attention to conspecifics’ actions. During domestication, dogs’ dependency on conspecifics has been relaxed, leading to reduced motivational and cognitive abilities to interact with conspecifics. Here we show that 6-month-old wolves outperform same aged dogs in a two-action-imitation task following a conspecific demonstration. While the wolves readily opened the apparatus after a demonstration, the dogs failed to solve the problem. This difference could not be explained by differential motivation, better physical insight of wolves, differential developmental pathways of wolves and dogs or a higher dependency of dogs from humans. Our results are best explained by the hypothesis that higher cooperativeness may come together with a higher propensity to pay close attention to detailed actions of others and offer an alternative perspective to domestication by emphasizing the cooperativeness of wolves as a potential source of dog-human cooperation.

Trends in the prey size-based trophic niches of feral and house cats

Pearre, S., Maass, R., & Maass, R. (1998). Trends in the prey size-based trophic niches of feral and House Cats Felis catus L. Mammal Review, 28(3), 125-139.

House Cats Felis catus L., whether attached to human households or not, appear to be versatile opportunistic predators. Their principal prey in most areas are mammals (rodents and rabbits), with bird prey secondary. Trophic niche breadth, as measured by the standard deviation of the spectrum of logarithmically transformed prey sizes (‘SLH’), shows a latitudinal trend, being greater in low latitudes: it is also greater in periods of high prey availability. This appears to be influenced by inclusion of very small prey, especially insects, in areas and seasons when they are available. Both the niche breadth and the mean prey size (niche position) appear to be constant as population mean cat size increases. The most common prey size for cats is about 1% of their own body weights, which is much less than most previously reported values for carnivores.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A bait efficacy trial for the control of feral cats on Dirk Hartog Island

Johnston,M. D. Algar, M. Onus, N. Hamilton, S. Hilmer, B. Withnell and K. Koch. 2010. A bait efficacy trial for the management of feral cats on Dirk Hartog Island. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Sustainability and Environment, 2010.

A field efficacy trial of a novel feral cat baiting technology was undertaken on Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia. The objectives of the study were to investigate; 
• the attractiveness and palatability of the Eradicat® bait,
• the acceptance of an encapsulated pellet that was implanted into the bait, and
• home range and activity patterns of feral cats.
This trial was initially planned to utilise an encapsulated pellet containing the toxicant araaminopropiophenone
(PAPP) and provide a direct assessment of baiting efficacy of the Curiosity® Feral Cat Bait in the semi-arid zone. However, supply of sufficient PAPP pellets was not received in time. Instead, an alternative method utilising similar pellets that contained non-toxic Rhodamine B dye (RB) was utilised to ‘mark’ animals that were expected to have died had PAPP pellets been available.
The processed meat baits, implanted with the RB pellet, were poisoned with 4.5 mg sodium fluoroacetate (1080) to enable collection of data on bait consumption by feral cats. All cat carcasses located after baiting were investigated to determine presence of dye marking indicating that the animal had consumed a RB pellet.
Baits were laid from an aircraft over the study site on 19 April 2009. Sixteen feral cats had been trapped within the study site, fitted with VHF transmitter / GPS data-logger collars and released three weeks before baiting. Activity plots were established and monitored for feral cat presence before and after baiting. Follow-up baiting was undertaken using hand distributed baits around feral cats that were still alive eight days after the aerial application of baits. 
Monitoring and retrieval of carcasses of the radio-collared feral cats indicated that one animal died before baiting and that twelve died after eating a poison bait. Post mortem examination indicated that nine cats had consumed the RB pellet. Three cats were found to have died following consumption of a bait but had not consumed Rhodamine dye. The remaining three cats were shot at the conclusion of the trial, having failed to consume baits. Two additional uncollared feral cats were located following baiting and were also found to have died as a result of bait consumption indicated by the presence of RB dye. 
Feral cat activity at the monitor plots indicated a twelve-fold reduction following baiting. 
Monitoring of non-target species did not detect any negative impact on populations of resident raptor species. Our data suggests a decrease in goanna activity following baiting, but (given the high tolerance to 1080 exhibited by these reptiles) it is more likely that the apparent decrease was a result of a fault in the monitoring technique.
The results indicate that a pellet-delivered toxicant in Eradicat baits is appropriate for managing feral cat populations in the semi-arid zone. A proposed plan to eradicate feral cats from Dirk Hartog Island should include this bait type within the techniques considered for use. 
Data from the GPS dataloggers is to be reviewed to determine whether the bait frequency, application rate and pattern used in this study will provide for optimum bait encounter rates for feral cats on Dirk Hartog Island.

See more on Dirk Hartog Island feral cat eradication proposal

A pilot study for the eradication of cats on Dirk Hartog Island

Algar, D., Johnston, M., & Hilmer, S. S. (2011). A pilot study for the proposed eradication of feral cats on Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia. Island invasives: eradication and management, 10-16.

Feral cat eradication is planned for Dirk Hartog Island (620 km2), which is the largest island off the Western Australian coast. The island, in the Shark Bay World Heritage Property, once supported at least 13 species of native mammals but only three species remain. Since the 1860s, Dirk Hartog Island has been managed as a pastoral lease grazed by sheep and goats. Cats were probably introduced by early pastoralists and became feral during the late 19th century. Dirk Hartog Island was established as a National Park in November 2009, which provides the opportunity to eradicate feral cats and reconstruct the native mammal fauna. A 250 km2 pilot study was conducted on the island to assess the efficacy of aerial baiting as the primary technique for the eradication campaign. Initially, cats were trapped and fitted with GPS data-logger radio-collars. The collars were to provide information on daily activity patterns, to determine detection probabilities, and to optimise the proposed spacing of aerial baiting transects and the monitoring track network for the eradication. Baiting efficiency was determined from the percentage of radio-collared cats found dead following the distribution of baits. Fifteen cats were fitted with radio-collars and 12 (80%) of the cats consumed a toxic bait. Pre- and post-baiting surveys of cat activity were also conducted to record indices of activity at sand plots and along continuous track transects. Significant reductions in these indices after baiting coincided with declines of the same magnitude as radio-collar returns. Information collected in this pilot study should help to improve kill rates and has increased confidence that eradication can be successfully achieved.

See more on Dirk Hartog Island feral cat eradication proposal

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Spatial organization and habitat use of feral cats in California

Hall, L. S., Kasparian, M. A., Van Vuren, D., & Kelt, D. A. (2000). Spatial organization and habitat use of feral cats (Felis catus L.) in Mediterranean California. Mammalia64(1), 19-28.

We report on a preliminary study of the spatial organization, habitat use, and diet of feral cants (Felis catus) in a riparian reserve in Central California, to assess potential impacts of this exotic predator on native species. Home ranges of adult cats averaged 31,7 ha and did not differ significantly by sex and season. Home ranges also showed little overlap, suggesting a territorial social system. Cats strongly preferred riparian habitats and foraged primarily on native species of small mammals, especially California voles (Microtus californicus) and Botta's pocket gophers (Thomomys bottae), although birds, insects, and exotic rodents were also eaten. The preference for riparian habitats and native preys suggests that impacts on biodiversity by feral cats may be great, especially in Mediterranean climates where riparian communities already are heavily impacted by urbanisation and agriculture.
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