There was a little island who swallowed a cat…

This past week, there has been an interesting news story making the news rounds about Macquarie island (between Australia and Antarctica) and their apparent, well, balancing issue. Like many places on the map that have borders on the bright blue, they have a guest problem. Like many people with a guest problem, they figured that getting the guest to leave would fix the problem. Not so much, it seems.

The problem started out as simple. Too many cats. The cats were booted off ships passing the island, had multiplied like bunnies and had become a nuisance to the islanders (who are apparently raging dog people). Actually, when I say islanders, I really mean island birds. The cats had been playing a mean game of Sylvester and Tweety, except Tweety was not winning.

The solution seemed simple. Remove the cats and you remove the problem. Except that cats were not the only critters booted off passing ships. It seems that the cats did not live by birds alone. They had a healthy diet of bunny, rat and mouse as well. All of which were uninvited guests on the island too.

The real problem became apparent after the cats were gone, when the local bunnies started multiplying like the cats had (see the circle here?). The “cute wittle bunnies” ravaged the vegetation where the local birds hid and well, the birds’ natural predators declared a local holiday and feasted on tasty and now stupid easy to catch local birds.

What lessons do we as gardeners learn here? One really important one. You don’t fuck with Mother Nature. Harsh language but absolutely appropriate.

Here in Cleveland, and in many places in the US, we have a similar issue. Whether it be suburbian expansion or unnatural selection, we have messed with Mother Nature’s balance and we have ended up with Mother Nature on PMS.

Deer come first to mind (really, I promise not to let this run into a deer rant). Funny thing is that the reason that people THINK we have a deer problem is not the real reason we have a deer problem. It is not a habitat issue.  In the context of the island story, deer are the bunnies. So damn cute that it is not funny and their effects are devastating.

The deer population problem is a result of a previous culling. One not as much talked of since they are not as cute. Farmers, hunters and suburbanites have worked to eliminate the local coyote populations over several decades. The coyote hunt deer and any small animal (i.e. Fluffy and Rover) which makes them inconvenient. We killed the coyote and are now shocked when the bunny deer took over. I am now an avid, card carrying “Save the Coyote” fan. But I still get grief from those deer people. Apparently cute counts for more than natural.

We seem to think that just killing our way down the inconvenience chain will fix the problem. The herd of deer in my neighbor’s yard last week begs to differ. Of course, they are cute, so they have people on their side fighting for them (not me, I have a cross bow and a friend with a deer tag)

Enough with the deer (it is getting close to a rant). Let’s take this little mental foray even closer to our own home and garden.

“Those damn <insert local pest here>! Let’s kill ’em all. ”

Except what are you killing? Are you getting rid of a problem or are you inviting a bigger secondary problem? When planning your gardening assault for this upcoming spring, whether it be on beast or weed, give some very serious thought to what effect you will have on your own personal plot of land. I suppose the moral of this story is that, just like that cute little old lady song, simply going mafia on your problems and sending in bigger and bigger hit men just won’t fix the problem and could just make it worse (remember: she’s dead, of course).

10 thoughts on “There was a little island who swallowed a cat…
  1. Coyotes are cute too :)

    You are completely right, though. I remember from history a story about a lighthouse owner’s one cat who was responsible for the wiping out an entire bird species that was unique to the island. I’ve been trying to find the story but have been unable to locate it..anyone know what I’m talking about?

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  2. Coyotes have been introduced and are making a come back in the Hocking State forest area near my home.They are once again running wild. I am waiting to see if the farmers in five years will be complaining more about the coyote than they are the deers.The problem of deers and food supply here in this area could be both taken care of if the State would have open gun season on deers for a while.
    Lona

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  3. This is also true of insects. Which is why I don’t spray any insects. I figure and infestation of bad ones will invite the good ones that eat them!

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  4. Weeell, you are quite logical, but of course much too complicated. When there is a problem, people want a solution. And you can be sure that the one always wins who comes up with a simple one (“kill them all”). The majority will elect him or her for taking decisive action. 😉

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  5. Ariell on

    There was a little island who swallowed a cat…
    This was a nice little story, and the point you make is a very good one with regard to messing around with Nature. However, regarding the coyote and deer. The coyote are not at the top of the food chain with regard to deer. Coyote and fox are scavengers and opportunists. Occasionally if a deer is weak or unhealthy it is possible for a few coyotes to bring one down. Depending on what region of the country you’re referring to, the primary predator to the deer are wolves, hunters, and Natures course of natural selection.

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  6. AutumnBlaze on

    There was a little island who swallowed a cat…
    This was a nice little story, and the point you make is a very good one with regard to messing around with Nature. However, regarding the coyote and deer. The coyote are not at the top of the food chain with regard to deer. Coyote and fox are scavengers and opportunists. Occasionally if a deer is weak or unhealthy it is possible for a few coyotes to bring one down. Depending on what region of the country you’re referring to, the primary predator to the deer are wolves, hunters, and Natures course of natural selection.
    Coyotes cannot control deer populations in manner that was outlined.

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  7. Hanna on

    You are right that coyotes can’t bring down adult deers, but that is not why coyotes are essential to deer control. Coyotes only take down smaller animals, like dogs, cats and baby deer. It works like a trickle down effect. With healthy coyote populations, the deer herds are thinned at the fawn level. Those fawns are never able to grow up and produces several more fawns each, which then grow up to produce several more fawns each… and so on and so forth.

    Because coyotes population is no longer there to kill fawns, the overall deer population explodes.

    http://texnat.tamu.edu/symposia/coyote/p20.htm

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  8. Oldfart on

    It is easier for coyotes to feed on the local dog population. That might keep down wild dog packs but it most likely means that YOUR dog is in danger. The main thing that keeps the deer population down is lack of food. Except there is always a group or so of deer lovers who feed the poor starving deer. Eliminate the deer lovers, allow the excess deer to starve or be eaten by coyotes and the deer problem is managed if not solved. Truth is, actually managing these problems means, in many cases, letting nature take its course.

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  9. “me, I have a cross bow and a friend with a deer tag”

    Oh, Hannah, I LOVE this.

    A cross bow? Go YOU!

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  10. Cyd Bennett on

    Hi Hanna, I am wondering if there is an organic noxious brew to put on the garden this year to repell the deer? Last year they ate all my neighbors bulbs. This year because of heavy snow, they have found my garden. We do have lots of coyotes here ( yes they are adorable) I am a true wolf fan and wish they would make their way here fast.

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