Critical assessment of claims regarding management of feral cats by trap-neuter-return.
Many jurisdictions have adopted programs to manage feral cats by trap-neuter-return (TNR), in which cats are trapped and sterilized, then returned to the environment to be fed and cared for by volunteer caretakers. Most conservation biologists probably do not realize the extent and growth of this practice and that the goal of some leading TNR advocates is that cats ultimately be recognized and treated as "protected wildlife." We compared the arguments put forth in support of TNR by many feral cat advocates with the scientific literature. Advocates promoting TNR often claim that feral cats harm wildlife only on islands and not on continents; fill a natural or realized niche; do not contribute to the decline of native species; and are insignificant vectors or reservoirs of disease. Advocates also frequently make claims about the effectiveness of TNR, including claims that colonies of feral cats are eventually eliminated by TNR and that managed colonies resist invasion by other cats. The scientific literature contradicts each of these claims. TNR of feral cats is primarily viewed and regulated as an animal welfare issue, but it should be seen as an environmental issue, and decisions to implement it should receive formal environmental assessment. Conservation scientists have a role to play by conducting additional research on the effects of feral cats on wildlife and by communicating sound scientific information about this problem to policy makers.