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Science as Leisure

Liz Marchio

I am a trained ichthyologist interested in what gets people interested in natural history, biological sciences, and science careers. My passion is to find out what fuels curiosity for the natural world.

Biology-related serious leisure activities can impact people's interest in ecology, biology, and natural history. Do these activities promote biological understanding? If so, how does that progress and to what level does it progress to? 

If you're interested in a starting a dialogue, please feel free to contact me. If you're curious about how I got here, my story can be found on the About Me page.

 

Feral Cat Colonies & Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome

We've all heard about the negative effects feral cats have on wild bird populations. It's a fact that cats are hunters and they're good at it. After all, there are probably millions of barn cats employed because of their wonderful work ethic! 

Image from galleryhip.com

Image from galleryhip.com

The most interesting thing about the feral cat issue taking place in our society today is the straight up crazy conflict over the situation. We all know cats kill other animals. We know they do it well and whenever they can. Regardless of what we all know, take a look at any social media post regarding feral cats killing birds and you see the cat defenders come out and swat away those negative cat statistics. 

Why would spay/neuter help keep cats from eating? This is a common argument of cat-defenders.

Why would spay/neuter help keep cats from eating? This is a common argument of cat-defenders.

Above you can see the cat-defenders using several different tactics to defend wild/feral cats. Strategies include an appeal to emotion, appeals to humanity, placing blame, offering (biased) information to support pre-determined decisions, logical reasoning, and threats. It's intense and flies in the face of the information we all know: cats are killers and bird populations are on the decline because of it. So why defend cats so vehemently?

Enter: Toxoplasmosis. 

Toxoplasmosis gondii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Toxoplasmosis gondii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that is found in cats and cat feces. It is also found in rats. Basically, an infected rat is eaten by a cat (yay barn cats!), which then infects the cat. The cat does what all cats do, and poops. The feces house Toxoplasmosis and make it "available" to the environment. Uninfected rodents can get infected via fecal contact and so can people.

So, if you have a cat and you clean its box, or the cat gives you "the brown eye"... you may have Toxoplasmosis. 

Up to 80% of people could have Toxoplasmosis! 

This isn't even the scariest part. I haven't told you what the parasite can do... 

In rats, it has been shown to cause a reduction of fear. This is a "plan" by the parasite! If eaten, especially by a cat, the parasite can continue its life cycle. If the host rat doesn't fear cats, then cats get Toxoplasmosis. Here's a video to help explain:

This lack of fear response could also be an affection response.

It's well known by most people that people who keep a cat have an increased propensity to own another cat... and so on... and so on... This can lead to hoarding and an intense, self-destructive affection towards cats. 

This is Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome and it involves Toxoplasmosis.

 If social media stories on feral cat issues have replies/comments that are made up of 50% cat-defenders, are 50% of the people replying to that story "suffering" from Toxoplasmosis?  

After all, they are defending cats based on a reduction of fear and a strong, almost insatiable,  emotional attachment towards cats. 

Perhaps the feral cat issue can be aided by research in the "suffering" of Toxoplasmosis in the public? If people who will not aid bird conservation by limiting the number of cats in the wild actually have a disease and cannot act any other way towards cats... maybe there can be some middle ground forged? 

No one wants to know they're a part of a parasite's plan, or life history, so I doubt this gets much attention, but damn, isn't this at least interesting?


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