Monday, May 28, 2018

Google's Feral Cats Threaten Burrowing Owls

It seems the tech folks at Google's campus in Southern California are cat lovers just like US Person.  But a good deed never goes unpunished, and that apparently is the case with an employee group's policy of feeding feral cats inhabiting the Mountain View campus, known as "Googleplex".  The group traps feral cats and kittens and sends the friendly ones to adopting guardians.  The unfriendly ones are neutered and released.  The ferals are fed from feeding stations scattered about, night and day.  So far, so good.

However, the Googleplex is located next to Shoreline Nature Reserve, which is home to perhaps fifty of the few remaining burrowing owls, Athene cunicularia, in the valley. [photo credit: Audubon Society]  They make their underground nests in the deep grass of the 750 acre reserve.  That inaccessibly does not stop one of the supreme hunters of the natural world,  Felis cattus.  Owl remains-- a wing here, a beak there, and a few remaining feathers--testify to their ability to prey on the threatened owls.  Even cats that are fed regularly, hunt, as most cat guardians will tell you.  The beloved charges will bring into the house their hunting trophies to show their human companions, or pehaps even feed their horribly inept caretakers.  Even if a cat does not catch or kill a bird, their presence is enough to interfere with a bird's normal behavior, such as breeding.

Last year 318 feral cats were sighted in Mountain Home, according to city records.  2017 was the first time in twenty years of record keeping that no fledgling owls were observed in the park.  In 2010, ten were counted.  According to an environmental group attempting to expand the San Francisco Bay Natural Wildlife Refuge, Google has refused to remove the feeding stations or interfere in the activities of its employee group, which it says numbers around ten people.

Some companies, such as Facebook whose property abuts a marsh, stopped allowing feral cat feeding several years ago.  Even if companies adopt a policy of not feeding feral cats, city people are willing to take up the task.  A records request shows that city employees have discussed the impacts of Google's feral cat feeding on local protected wildlife.  A feral cat chipped by the employee group was trapped in the park; turned over to Google by the city's animal control authority; trapped again in the park; and released again to Google.  Last August this feral cat was found dead in the park.  True to their genetic heritage, cats do want they want.