Posts Tagged ‘Predators’

Cats Under Attack in NY Times

March 21, 2011 2 comments

I’ll never look at my cats in the same way again. As they sleep their 18 hours a day, all curled up and comfy on the bed looking so cute and innocent- it turns out I have been harboring killers. Murderers; furry, purring, ecological terrorists. It’s in the New York Times.

Granted, one has to consider the source and in this case it’s the American Bird Conservancy. They are reacting to a new study published in the Journal of Ornithology that has come to the startling conclusion that cats kill birds. I don’t mean every now and then. I mean- all the time. The study involved the mortality of baby gray cat birds in the Washington, D.C. suburbs (ironic name, don’t you think?).

The findings conclude that cats were the number one killer of these cat birds by a large margin.

Nearly 80 percent of the birds were killed by predators, and cats were responsible for 47 percent of those deaths, according to the researchers, from the Smithsonian Institution and Towson University in Maryland….

Predation was so serious in some areas that the catbirds could not replace their numbers for the next generation, according to the researchers, who affixed tiny radio transmitters to the birds to follow them. It is the first scientific study to calculate what fraction of bird deaths during the vulnerable fledgling stage can be attributed to cats.

People used to think wind turbines were one of the main killers of birds. Not so. Some 440,000 birds meet their cruel fate each year at the hand of a rapidly turning wind propeller-thing. But the American Bird Conservancy estimates 500 million birds are killed each year by cats- about half of them domestic, and the other half feral.

There’s passionate outrage today in the bird-loving community. From Darin Schroeder, the group’s vice president for conservation advocacy:

I hope we can now stop minimizing and trivializing the impacts that outdoor cats have on the environment and start addressing the serious problem of cat predation.

Well, it’s certainly a serious problem for birds, anyway. And it has most definitely raised the ire of Peter Mara of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

They are like gypsy moths and kudzu — they cause major ecological disruption.

Turns out the household cat is not supposed to be in North America. They were introduced by the colonists back in the 16th and 17th centuries and according to the New York Times, “they are regarded as an invasive species and have few natural enemies to check their numbers.”

Outraged by all this, is Sylvester, the cat, recently re-signed to a long-term, multi-year contract by Warner Brothers. Sylvester, known to have had a long-running bird “problem,” claims to have reformed his ways having recently graduated from an unnamed bird addiction facility near Monterey, California. But he takes umbrage at the suggestion his species is single-handedly responsible for most bird deaths in the United States.

“Let’s face it, they have tiny little brains and they are not the swiftest, smartest life form to inhabit the planet,” says Sylvester from his home in the Hollywood Hills. “For some scientist who’s obsessed with these creatures to call us cats the same thing as ‘Gypsy moths’ and ‘Kudzu’, is beyond the pale- completely prepothterouth [preposterous].”

“What’s next, a study by the American Rodent Inthtitute?” asks, Sylvester, sarcastically. “The American Catnip Preservation Society?” He seems on a roll as the conversation nears its end.

“I gave up birds for good this January. One could land on my shoulder right now and I wouldn’t even look. But that’s because I’m Sylvester, the cat. I am strong, I am proud, hear me roar. I am a cat with tiger-blood in his veins. But many of my brothers and sisters are not as strong as me and I will not blame them. It’s what we do. We’re wired that way. We’re on this continent now and people are just going to have to deal with us.”

Mystery in Space

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…it’s….a baby space shuttle launched Thursday night by the Air Force under a deep veil of secrecy. Meet the X-37B:

It reads like a cheesy techno-thriller. Developed by Boeing’s Phantom Works Division and under the operation of the Air Force Space Command’s 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron, the unmanned craft is a tiny version of the space shuttle. Only 29 feet long and with a wingspan of 14 feet, it will live in low-earth orbit for possibly 270 days before making an automated landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The location of Mission Control is unknown.

The government is not saying what it will do, what experiments will be conducted, what the ultimate point of the thing is, other than it appears to be the U.S. military’s first space plane.

Some speculate it’s an extension of predator technology; remote-controlled airborne vehicles that started out as surveillance tools but now carry weaponry and are employed regularly in attacks on terrorist targets along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. In other words, it’s a potential fast-response space vehicle fairly easily launched and landed. But this mission is said to be just a test of the viability of the craft for later operational programs.

Others speculate it’s a program that started decades ago that sort of gained its own bureaucratic momentum and couldn’t be stopped. A military space specialist interviewed by puts it this way:

The second explanation is that of bureaucratic inertia in military programs which is why the justifications and cost estimates are so obscure and mysterious. Once started, programs are difficult to kill especially when the proponents speak of marvelous capabilities analogous to aircraft style operation down the road.

It does have geo-political implications. The Chinese, for example, are likely to see it as the first efforts at U.S. militarization of space and take it as a threat and maybe even a challenge.

I’m not really sure what to make of it. A military space race is not necessarily a comforting prospect. On the other hand, presuming this isn’t some bureaucratic boondoggle- maybe it’s us just being really clever and sophisticated in developing the modern tools we need to beat the bad guys.

I am assuming, of course, that we will always be the good guys.