Now for something completely different, concerning our food supply.
Most of us today live in cities, completely artificial surroundings, with no more view of nature than a strip of lawn, a potted plant, or maybe a small pet. We occasionally go to parks, more rarely to public gardens or zoos. It’s easy to forget our place in the ecosystem that keeps us alive, and it’s easier to forget the function of various animals in that system.
Those of us who still live in the country, on working farms, have a better sense of the realities of nature. We know that evolution never stopped, and “survival of the fittest” is still the name of the game. We know about predators, parasites and plagues – animal, plant and microbe. We also know about our symbiotes and allies. We know why there are certain domestic animals that we raise and care for, but do not eat.
Certain ornamental fish, small birds and small rodents – like hamsters and gerbils – we keep purely as pets, but others we keep because they perform vital work for us. They help keep us alive, and we must never forget it.
There are just 9 kinds of animals in the world that can be trained to carry burdens or pull loads for us: elephants, horses, donkeys, camels, llamas, oxen, large goats, reindeer and large dogs. Despite the easy availability of machines, these animals are still valued for their work in particular circumstances, especially since many of these animals can be used to grow their own fuel. There’s an old saying among small farmers: “Farm with horses, and keep more of what you make.” And ask any Alaskan if sled-dogs are more useful than snowmobiles.
Dogs also perform many other tasks for us: hunters, guards, guides, and even health-alarms. Cart-trained goats can also give milk. Other domestic – or even semi-domestic – animals perform vital services that are harder to see. Small birds, even wild ones, devour insects and worms which would otherwise harm us or our crops, and some of them – like hummingbirds – pollinate many of our crops, especially fruit-plants; this is why we make the effort to put out food, water, and shelters for them. Bees do more than produce honey; they pollinate most of our food-plants, especially grains, and also protect their territories against invading insects and animals.
There’s one creature which most people have forgotten is a working animal, think of only as a useless pet, and that is a serious mistake.
That animal is the cat – the common house-cat – and it protects us more than we know.
Think: the most common, numerous, fertile, and invasive land-mammals on Earth are the Rodents – rats, mice, moles, gophers, ground-squirrels, tree-squirrels, and more. Most of them eat the same food-plants that we do, and a few of them – like the rat – eat meat, too. Rats, in particular, are quite willing to eat us if they can.
The damage rodents do to humans is incredible. The most numerous and invasive species of land-mammal on the planet is the common or house mouse, and the runner-up, by a whisker, is the common rat. Rats and mice annually destroy 20% of the world’s human food supply, according to the UN – and that’s not counting the damage done by rodents to crops in the field. That’s also not counting the dozens of rodent-borne diseases – like the Black Plague – that can jump to other species and infect humans.
In the wild, rodents are preyed on by snakes, raptor-birds, bears, weasels, wolves, foxes, coyotes, wild dogs, and especially by the dozens of species of small wild cats. In human territories such as farms, towns and cities, the only rodent-predators found in any large numbers are domestic (or stray) dogs and cats – and cats are more efficient at it. House-cats are also much more likely to hang around human habitations rather than wander off into the wild.
Despite wildly inaccurate claims by admitted cat-haters,* there is no way to tell how many cats there are in the US alone, and likewise no way to tell how many rodents they kill, but we know that there is no shortage of rodents. We know that communities which restrict the numbers of outdoor cats and dogs tend to suffer from amazing plagues of mice and rats (see “mouse plague”,
Australia and , and see also “rat
plagues”). People who earnestly tell you
that we have an “overpopulation of cats and dogs” have really no evidence for
this except the abundance of stray animals in shelters. The best solution to that problem is to
spay/neuter the strays, try to find homes for them, and if nobody takes them,
turn them loose again – hopefully to find their own homes. You can never tell when a “stray” is actually
somebody’s lost pet. Apopka,
We can also tell from direct observation, despite the claims of cat-haters and the ignorant, that house-cats very rarely kill birds. Think: birds small enough for a cat to tackle have faster reactions than cats, can see 300 degrees around them, and can fly. Only a very sick or injured bird would move slowly enough for a cat to catch. As for the idea that cats climb trees to get at nests, recall that birds form breeding pairs who stick together to feed and protect their young; two birds, who can fly, are more than a match for a cat, who must climb – and can’t go further than a branch that will hold his weight. If anything, the climbing – “roof”, “wharf”, or “ship” – rat has a better chance to steal birds’ eggs than the cat does. Direct observations by amateur birdwatchers and professional biologists reveal that the biggest predator of birds is… other birds: eagles, hawks, owls, and ravens. The cat doesn’t even come close.
No, the major prey of small cats is small rodents – and it was from the beginning. When humans learned how to farm and store food, around the eastern Mediterranean Sea and eastward into
Asia, the rodents – particularly
rats and mice – saw that they had an easy smorgasbord with humans. One reason that humans developed pottery,
besides carrying water, was to secure their food against rodents – particularly
rats and mice – who could gnaw through anything softer. Rats and mice, in particular, took to hanging
around human habitats, waiting for their chance to steal food that humans
provided. Their presence, in turn,
provided a feast for the various breeds of Felis
Sylvestris – the native wild cat of Africa, Europe, and southern Asia.
This is how the ancestors of the modern house-cat began hanging around with humans. Humans soon noted that when the cats moved in the rats and mice thinned out, so they began providing regular favorite foods – tender meat, milk, later cheese – and shelter, to entice the cats to stay. The cats accepted the deal, and it has lasted to this day.
Neither the arrangement nor the cat has changed much in thousands of years. Domestic cats – Felis Cattus – are still capable of interbreeding with wild cats, and their offspring are fertile. The house-cat still preys primarily on rats and mice, with occasional side-dishes of whatever other small rodents, reptiles, or fish it can catch – and whatever it can charm, demand, forage or steal from humans. Whether as an only-occasionally-hunting pet, a busy farm-cat, or a feral full-time hunter, the cat still destroys the pests that destroy our food.
The cat is a vitally important working animal, whether ignorant cat-haters realize it or not.
This is why fools who want to exterminate cats – and dogs – need to be recognized as domestic terrorists, and treated accordingly.
--Leslie Fish <;)))><