Cats and Rats

By: Brooks A. Mick

Macquarie Island is about halfway between Australia and Antarctica. It is the world’s only island composed entirely of oceanic crust and was thus named a World Heritage site in 1997. It is home to about 3.5 million seabirds and 80,000 elephant seals who migrate there each year to breed. It was also home to a non-native species, feral house cats, a grand total of 160 of them, that apparently arrived around 100 years ago, dropped off by passing sailing ships. The ships also dropped off some rabbits and mice. These three non-native mammals, the cats and rats and rabbits, were considered interlopers by the inhabitants of Macquarie (who were, technically, interlopers themselves!) and so the authorities have been struggling for decades to eradicate these three species.

Recently, they did succeed with one species of mammal, recently killing off the last of the 160 cats.

Now they are having second thoughts, finding themselves inundated by mice and rabbits, whose population the cats, despite their relatively scant numbers, were keeping in control.

It is not that the authorities were blind to the danger of destroying the cats before they had control of the rabbits and mice, but the authorities, in their arrogance, thought they could handle the problem. It appears that, for the moment at least, the rabbits and mice are winning the battle. The current plan is to go high tech, with helicopters, GPS systems, poisonous bait, and teams of varmint hunters to fumigate, trap, and shoot the critters. I would bet, given history’s lessons, on the mice, now that the cats have been killed.

This carries a cautionary tale for President-elect Obama. His appointment of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, his plans to close Guantanamo Bay, and his other Homeland Security appointments suggest that he plans to kill or cage–or at least severely hamper–the counter terrorist cats in the CIA before he has succeeded in eradicating the terrorist rats. I hope he notes what has happened in Macquarie Island.

Counter terrorists may be exotic species to those of us who lead normal lives, driving our SUVs or Priuses as determined by personal inclination, sipping our morning Starbucks or green tea, eating a breakfast burrito or sausage biscuit or a half a melon for breakfast, cruising for a parking space, working our eight hours, going home to soft beds at night. To paraphrase a comment attributed (possibly incorrectly) to George Orwell: “We sleep safe in our beds because counter terrorist cats stand ready in the night to visit violence on those terrorist rats who would do us harm.”

I suggest that Obama work first on killing the rats before he kills or cages the cats.

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