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Counting Cats

What population ecology models can tell us about TNR programs

What population ecology models can tell us about TNR programs

Getting people to agree on strategies for helping feral colonies can seem as difficult as herding cats. And although animal advocates have developed strong arguments to promote trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs, success has typically been expressed through reports of the numbers of cats sterilized rather than through long-term population measurements. But a recent study using a population ecology model—which examines the structure and dynamics of populations and how those populations interact with their environments—points to the need for greater refinement of current TNR programs.

According to the study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Vol. 227, No. 11), feral cats are territorial and are likely to reproduce most quickly when their population is low. Feral colonies tend to expand their numbers until the “carrying capacity”—the maximum sustainable population—is reached, a measurement that depends primarily on the availability of food and territory.

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