Wildlife Protection: Reducing Domestic Animal Insurgents


By Dr. Michael W. Fox

Caring for all creatures great and small who are still surviving in the diminishing wild by ensuring their well-being is a responsibility all communities and countries must adopt.

The harmful incursions of people, free-roaming and feral domestic animals such as cats, dogs and pigs, and unattended livestock cannot continue to be ignored. Allowing cattle, sheep and goats to roam free in and around wildlife areas should be prohibited yet is subsidized by government predator control programs that have all but exterminated the wolf and cougar in most states. These animals can spread diseases that put remnant Buffalo/Bison herds and other wildlife at risk. Cattle, sheep and goats can be infected by Lyme disease and help spread this serious tick-borne public health problem.

Domestic animals that adapt to living in the wild are called feral. Feral pigs are becoming an increasing problem in the U.S. and Canada. See Feral Pigs Roam the South. Now Even Northern States Aren’t Safe. The swine have established themselves in Canada and are encroaching on border states like Montana and North Dakota.( https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/16/science/feral-pigs-canada-texas.html). Feral pigs can put domestic pigs at risk from diseases such as African swine fever.

There is also a feral dog problem. Feral dogs have been documented in all 50 states and estimates of damage in the U.S. from these animals amount to >$620 million annually. In Texas alone, it is estimated that over $5 million in damage to livestock annually can be attributed to feral dogs.(Feral Dogs - Wildlife Damage Management https://wildlife-damage-management.extension.org ›)

Feral dogs spread diseases such as distemper and parvovirus that put endangered and protected species like the wolf at risk as well as other wild canids, - the various fox species and coyotes. While rabid dogs continue to put people and other animals at risk in many countries, feral dog packs in several countries, including the U.S., have attacked and killed people.

The feral cat problem is also a major factor in the loss of song birds and small mammals. They spread diseases to wild felids such as the Florida panther and the Northern Lynx and Bobcat; also, Toxoplasmosis which infects many species including humans.

According to one assessment of the predation by domesticated cats, “The total across all species of when reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals are included in the tally, scientists estimate that feral cats in the U.S. kill 6.9 to 20.7 billion animals annually. Outside of human-driven habitat destruction, there is arguably no greater threat to small wildlife species—especially birds—than feral cats. Exact estimates ( of this feral cat population) vary, but various sources report that there are between 50 and 70 million feral cats in the United States. Some reports point to figures above 100 million. That’s a lot of cats, considering American pet owners only registered 94.2 million pet cats in 2017. ( https://www.bard.edu/cep/blog/?p=11962).

Both feral cats and dogs pose a greater public health risk as potential carriers of rabies, than wild carnivores such as coyotes and foxes.

This feral animal issue is world-wide and includes cattle and camels in Australia as well as rabbits and cats, where it is estimated that invasive species are beginning to outnumber indigenous ones, many of which they kill or out-compete.

Collectively, the negative impact of feral animals on biodiversity must be addressed.

The World Economic Forum lists biodiversity loss as one of the top three global risks, because the loss of Nature doesn’t just impact plants and animals. Destruction of forests, wetlands and other natural ecosystems deprives us increasingly of clean air and water, and results in the release of “emergent” diseases, pestilence and pests, which natural biodiversity helps contain.

The Biden administration has yet to sign on to support the UN Convention on Biological Diversity 2022 resolution, agreed to by most other countries, to take concerted action to protect at least one third of the world’s natural ecosystems, aquatic and terrestrial.

The issue of invasive species, plant and animals wild and feral, and free-roaming livestock cannot be ignored. We must make fundamental changes in how we treat domesticated animals for food and other purposes, and those who become feral at home and abroad. There are ordinances forbidding dog owners to allow their dogs to roam free and these same regulations should be applied to owned cats.