Stray cats for rat control spark debate

 

Photo taken on July 23, 2013 shows the hut built for the stray cats released onto the prairie

in Bole City of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Hundreds of stray cats

have been released in northwest China’s prairies to control the region’s rat rampage, sparking

online debate and concern. In early August, eight stray cats were released into rat-plagued

grassland in Bole City. They are among 100-odd cats that have been introduced just this year

to control the prairie rat population. The city’s prairie workstation started introducing urban

strays for rat control as early as 2011. So far, over 600 stray cats have been released into some

5,300 hectares of rat-infested grasslands around the city.   Photo by Su Chuanyi

 

Photo taken on July 23, 2013 shows the workers of the prairie workstation releasing the city

stray cats onto the prairie in Bole City of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.  

Photos by Su Chuanyi

 

Photo taken on July 23, 2013 shows the stray cats released onto the prairie in Bole City

of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.   Photo by Su Chuanyi

 

 

 

 

Stray cats for rat control

  

 spark debate

 

 

 

By Deng Yaomin, Su Chuanyi and Zhao Chunhui

 

Hundreds of stray cats have been released in northwest China’s prairies to control the region’s rat rampage, sparking online debate and concern.

In early August, eight stray cats were released into rat-plagued grassland in Bole City, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. They are among 100-odd cats that have been introduced just this year to control the prairie rat population.

The city’s prairie workstation started introducing urban strays for rat control as early as 2011. So far, over 600 stray cats have been released into some 5,300 hectares of rat-infested grasslands around the city.

“There are a large number of stray cats in our city. We think using them to eradicate the rodent population on the prairie can be a win-win solution,” said Guan Tingxian, head of the city’ s prairie workstation.

Prairie rats eat grass roots and burrow into the grassland, which can increase desertification.

As in many places in China, local residents in Bole typically use traps or poison for rat control. However, these methods have been less than effective, especially poison, which not only causes pollution but also harms livestock and predators like foxes and eagles.

Over the past three years, the use of strays to control prairie rats has appeared to be effective, as cats are often seen hunting and catching the rats.

“I’ve spotted the cats catching rats several times while herding my sheep,” said Sulaiman, a local herder.

Nevertheless, the move has triggered heated debate online. Although some believe relocating cats is a good way to address both pest control and the abundance of stray cats, others disagree.

“Urban cats cannot adapt to the environment in the grassland. In the winter, they may freeze to death,” said netizen “chutianshu,” who questioned the well-being of the stray cats.

Hu Yukun, a researcher of prairie ecology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, shares the same concern.

He said cats, which are usually raised as pets and fed by their owners, have a hard time adapting to the wild environment.

“There are different rats on the grassland, such as the brown rat and mole rat. They vary in color and size. Domestic cats may not recognize them and may be frightened by the rats instead,” said Hu, adding the stray cats’ effectiveness may not be as good as some have assumed.

In response to adaptation concerns, Guan said the workstation has built “cat houses” near water sources. The workstation will also ask local herders to take the cats in during the winter, when temperatures plummet and the cats face food scarcity.

The workstation plans to train the cats before they are released in the future so that they can better adapt.

Guan admits there may be some problems with their methods, though there has been a drastic decrease in the number of rat burrows on the grassland over the years.

“We can’t say that the decrease can be attributed to the introduction of the cats, as we lack sufficient evidence,” Guan said. “We’ll monitor the cats in the future to verify their role in rat control.”

Despite these efforts, some netizens still worry about the effect the cats may have on the local ecosystem. Some have argued that the felines may also prey on birds and other prairie animals, damaging the local food chain.

“It is completely wrong. The number of birds on the prairie may eventually shrink while the rats still infest,” said internet user “aotemanguaishou.”

“The introduction of stray cats means that a new species has broken in between rodents and foxes on the prairie food chain,” said Hu, who suggested monitoring the number of cats once their effectiveness in controlling rats has been scientifically proven.

“If the cats prove to be effective in controlling rats, then the number of rats that the cats and foxes can respectively consume should be assessed in order to maintain the balance in the prairie ecosystem,” he added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHINA VIEW 

 

Stray Cats Control Prairie Rats

 

Hundreds of stray cats have been introduced to prairies in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in a bid to control the expanding rat population. However, the move has also triggered online debate regarding its effectiveness, as well as its possible effect on the local ecosystem. China View investigates.

In early August, eight stray cats were released into a rat-plagued area of grassland in the city of Bole in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The cats represent just a few of the 100-odd cats that have been introduced to control the prairie rat population this year. The city’s prairie work station started introducing urban strays to control the rats in 2011. Over 600 stray cats have been released into rat-infested grasslands so far.

GUAN TINGXIAN (head of the prairie work station) : There is a large number of stray cats in our city. We think using the strays to eradicate the rodent population on the prairie can be a win-win solution. It is also environmentally friendly.

Prairie rats eat grass roots, as well as dig tunnels in the grassland, both of which can result in increased desertification.

Like in many places in China, local residents in Bole usually use traps or poison for rat control. However, these methods have been less than effective, especially the poison, which can not only cause pollution, but also harm rat predators, such as foxes and eagles.

GUAN TINGXIAN (head of the prairie work station): Poison has been used as a primary method for rat control here. However, the poison sometimes harms our livestock if we use too much.

The use of strays to control rats on the prairie has appeared to be effective, as the cats are often seen hunting and catching rats.

Local herder : I’ve seen stray cats catching rats several times while herding my sheep.

Nevertheless, the move has triggered heated debate online. Although some believe relocating the cats is a good way to address both pest control and the abundance of stray cats in Bole, others think otherwise.

“Urban cats cannot adapt to the environment in the grassland. In the winter, they may freeze to death,” said one netizen who questioned the well-being of the stray cats.

Hu Yukun, a researcher of prairie ecology at the Chinese Academy of Science’s (CAS) Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, shares the same concern. He said the stray cats, which are usually raised as pets and fed by their owners, have a hard time adapting to the wild environment.

HU YUKUN (expert): There are different rats on the grassland, such as the brown rat and mole rat. They vary in color and size. Domestic cats may not recognize them; instead, they may be frightened by the rats. Therefore, the stray cats’ effectiveness may not be as good as some have assumed.

In response to adaptation concerns, Guan said the work station has built “cat houses” near water sources for the cats. Guan added that the station will ask local herders to take the cats in during the winter, when temperatures plummet and the cats face a scarcity of food.

GUAN TINGXIAN (head of the prairie work station): We put some cats in local herders’ homes. In this way, the animals can be looked after and still prey on rats.

The station also plans to “train” cats that were previously kept as pets before they are released into the wild in the future.

However, Guan admits there may be some problems in the way.

GUAN TINGXIAN (head of prairie work station) : After three years of work, there has been a drastic decrease in the number of rat burrows on the grassland. However, we can’t say that the decrease can be attributed to the introduction of the cats, as we lack sufficient evidence. We’ll monitor the cats in the future to verify their role in rat control.

Despite these efforts, some people are still worried about the effect the cats may have on the local ecosystem. Some have argued that the felines may also prey on birds and other prairie animals, which could damage the local food chain.

Experts have suggested monitoring the number of the cats in the field once their effectiveness in controlling rats has been scientifically proven.

HU YUKUN (expert): The introduction of stray cats means that a new species has broken in between rodents and foxes on the prairie food chain. If the cats prove to be effective in controlling rats, then the number of rats that the cats and foxes can respectively consume should be assessed in order to maintain balance in the prairie ecosystem.

 

 

 

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