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Exploitation and abuse of hybrids, exotics shameful

Dr. Michael Fox

Dear Dr. Fox: I am amazed at your anger about the breeding of domestic cat-wild cat hybrids — but I'm very glad. My most recent experience with this type of experiment is in southwest Florida. It seems that some university folks thought it was a great idea to cross Florida panthers with Texas pumas, arguing that is how you save the panther.

I understand the puma, a more aggressive breed, is considered quite a problem in Texas for us humans and domestic animals. It has proven to be the case here, as well. When will we understand not to confuse interfering with Mother Nature and good stewardship, care and concern?—D.W., Naples, Fla.

Dear D.W.: Yes, after close to 50 years of advocating animals' rights to humane treatment and respectful stewardship to provide them with a life worth living, I am angry on many fronts when it comes to our collective exploitation and abuse of fellow creatures. Creating "misfits" like wild cat-domestic cat hybrids and keeping "exotic" species as pets are ethically questionable when appropriate environments are not (and generally cannot) be provided for them. We must question subjecting any creature to a deprived existence simply for our own pleasure or dubious "educational" purposes for children and entertainment.

The scientific basis for hybridization is valid when striving to save endangered species and subspecies like the cougar. I asked Will Stolzenburg, author of "Heart of a Lion," a wonderful book about the history and status of America's cougar or panther, to give more insight on the situation you mention. He writes:

"Concerning the Florida panther situation, I have to side with the scientists on this one, who decided that the Florida panther (so terribly rare and inbred at the time that their eyes were crossed, their tails kinked, their sperm deformed) was doomed without introduction of fresh genes. (By the way, there's debate as to whether they're even separate subspecies, despite morphological differences that experts can easily detect.)

"The move has proved warranted, as the population has since rebounded from a scant 30 to more than 100. The idea that the fresh-blooded panthers of Florida, or the Texas cougars from which they were bolstered, are more aggressive, I've yet to see any scientific evidence of this.

"Despite the headlines, the frequency of livestock depredations in either Florida or Texas is still relatively tiny and localized compared to all other factors of livestock mortality.

My own journalism profession is guilty of hyping these rare depredations with dramatic headlines, while ignoring the great majority of panthers/cougars who go about their daily lives in close proximity to humans and their companion animals with never a hint of conflict.

I'm not only glad they saved the Florida population of cougars by intervening; I'm in favor of translocating a few females north of the Caloosahatchee River so that they can naturally expand northward to repopulate the Appalachians. The eastern forests, overrun with deer and feral hogs, sorely miss their alpha predators."

I would add that free-roaming and feral domestic cats put panthers, lynx and bobcats at risk from feline diseases they can harbor.

NYC veterinarians battle H7N2 outbreak in cats

According to the New York Post, "Officials say 386 New York City shelter cats have tested positive for H7N2 avian influenza as veterinarians work to stem an outbreak among feline residents that appears to have started in October 2016.

Some 500 cats have been placed at a makeshift quarantine facility staffed by six veterinarians and eight technicians as well as support staff, and some of the animals will be released in the coming days."

I would call this outbreak an example of an anthropogenic, human-generated disease facilitated by the inhumane poultry and pig industries in virtually every country that are the petri dishes for new strains of the influenza virus.

This virus can mutate and spread fast, in part facilitated by migrant birds, but far more so by our own international travel and commerce. We reap what we sow. I have met more than one adult who was partially paralyzed, permanently, after receiving an anti-flu vaccine.

Vaccinology and the profitable vaccine industry have too long ignored the path of disease prevention through more humane animal husbandry and good hygiene, so terribly deficient in the CAFOs — concentrated animal feeding operations. Some historians contend that the Spanish flu virus pandemic, which probably came from pigs, caused such human morbidity and mortality in the millions that it put an end to World War I. 

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