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Maintaining Lizards, toads/frogs, snake population with chickens and cats  RSS feed

 
Willy Walker
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I have fenced off about 1/4 to 1/2 acre of downed hard wood forest for a garden oasis. It consists a few hugelkultur beds, raised beds, terraced beds and will make use of in ground planting in a few years. South Eastern facing slope. I see a northern fence lizards every day, multiple actually. I have seen a few black snakes. I would think the same two but that might be crazy to think that. Ultimately I would like to move my baby chickens into portions to help keep them safe from the rest of the flock and dogs, cats, etc. When not occupied baby chicks, I would like to think my cats would enjoy the area, getting away from the dogs, enjoying the plants and munching on some bugs.

I am concerned about depleting the lizards. They seem like the ultimate garden friend. bug patrol like crazy. I am also concerned about too many snakes. One or two raises concerns for my 2 year old but we can deal with that low number. I have seen some toads but not as often.

Of course the ultimate answer is to observe but I would like to not mess up and knock out the balance.

I would think that my lizard and snake hotels (hugelbeds) will become less desirable as they melt into a moist soil mound. ?



ANy in general comments about the northern fence lizard and gardening? How about dealing with dense growth, snakes and 2 year olds?


thanks,
 
Willy Walker
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A picture is worth a thousand words.
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Tyler Ludens
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I worry about this too because I have a stupid number of yard cats (3). I think we should make lots of brush piles and rock piles and areas of dense vegetation. At least that's what I'm trying to do!

I don't think you can have lizard habitat without having snake habitat. We only have Coral Snakes and Rattlesnakes, but not many of them. My plan is to keep our paths clear, and try not to worry about the snakes too much.

For young children, make sure they have a place to play which does not contain nearby critter habitat, so, an open space without those piles and vegetation. If they go off into the habitat areas, make sure they're supervised.

 
Marco Banks
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This is one of the reasons I don't keep cats, and when I catch a feral cat in one of my box traps, it goes to kitty heaven. I need all the lizards possible.

Growing up in the country as the son of hunters, we were taught that whenever we saw a cat out in the country away from a farm, shoot it. It's been said (and I don't know of any research that backs this up, but it sounds convincing) that feral cats kill more game birds every year than hunters do. For the pheasant and quail populations, they already have enough native predators without bringing non-native cats into the ecosystem.

Since we've created our food forest and the lizard population has grown significantly, we now see hawks out there in the morning. They sit on the fence or a low branch and pounce on the slow moving (morning cold) lizards. Breakfast. That doesn't bother me, as that's a sign of a healthy ecosystem. But common house cats, turned loose by some idiot, and now roaming the neighborhood . . . no mercy shown.
 
chip sanft
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I have an urbanite and old brick pile for lizards (skinks in our area) and a few small cairns around, too. This seems to draw skinks. (I'd use rock but there isn't an easy free source of rock nearby, whereas urbanite and brick are easy to find.)

Smaller pieces make for smaller holes and the skinks have no apparent trouble evading domestic predators by getting inside the pile, where they're safe.

Snakes like the piles, too. Keeping the piles small seems to keep the snakes small, at least the ones I've seen. But then I'm always happy to have non-venomous snakes around. Trapping slugs is such a waste of beer. I'm looking forward to the emergence of the reptiles soon, when they can take over the slug patrol.
 
Rick English
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I am not a snake expert, but I think they are pretty cool

Looks like you have one of these two snakes:
http://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/reptiles/snakes/eastern-ratsnake/blackrat_snake.php
http://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/reptiles/snakes/northern-black-racer/northern_black_racer.php

Both are harmless to people and cats/dogs. It is great to have "safe" snakes in your yard, because they keep pest populations down, and also seem to be a deterrent for venomous snakes.
 
Willy Walker
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Thanks for the feedback. A few thoughts from your comments and thinking.

I have been thinking that the cats should not have free roam in this area at first. I will watch them and be with them for a while to see if they can catch the lizards.

I may do the same for the chickens. I have also been thinking about letting them in the bottom half where I havent really seen any lizards but a snake last year. I think they will have the biggest impact on this area as it's wild at the moment, could use there work and full of buggy goodness

As the hugel beds start to soilize I may add a few rock piles near each bed for the lizards to continue to provide habitat.

Adopting this new style of natural gardening means that the days of sending your child in with little supervision are over. At least until he can understand snake habitat, etc.

I am going to gather sticks and rocks and make a few piles in the woods to promote similar lizard luxuries / snake diners

Keeping my compost in the garden area promotes bug food for the lizards.

I get mass amounts of coffee grounds, I am wondering if they would irritat a snake.
 
Dale Hodgins
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chip sanft
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Research by folks at the University of Georgia indicates that cats kill small snakes, among many other things, in the US, too: http://www.wildlifemanagementinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=610:new-research-suggests-outdoor-cats-kill-more-wildlife-than-thought. "[W]e found that about 30 percent of the sampled cats were successful in capturing and killing prey, and that those cats averaged about one kill for every 17 hours outdoors or 2.1 kills per week." That's one big reason I like to give my slug patrol a nice safe pile o' urbanite to hide in.

For reference only: http://conservationmagazine.org/2015/07/pet-owners-wont-admit-their-cats-harm-wildlife/.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Many snakes are good at capturing rats. Cats can be good mousers, but most don't tackle big rats that fight back. When cats remove most mice and snakes from an area, they pave the way for rats to take over.

In Victoria, I see several rats each week and almost never see a snake.--- At my land , out of the city, where there are few cats, I see lizards and snakes daily. Little mice are common. I have never seen a Norway rat there. The invasive rat, thrives in cities where cats eliminate the competition and the predators most likely to eat rats.
 
Casie Becker
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Considering they can breed at least as fast as rabbits, I can quickly see a population of feral cats outstripping their prey. I consider fixing my cats (both male and female) to be a basic first step in responsible cat ownership. By following that basic rule, I hope that my lifelong history of owning cats hasn't done horrendous damage. We regularly see different species of snakes, birds and lizards in our yard.
 
raven ranson
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Snakes are seldom seen here in the city ,despite abundant habitat. Domestic cats are everywhere.



Are you sure we're in the same city? I've got a couple dozen snakes that live along my front drive alone, their main food are the invasive lizards.

Even in town, I'm often seeing snakes. Must be different parts of town.



Seems like this thread is being a bit hard on cats. It's not their fault for doing what they do naturally. If they are causing a problem, surely this would be a great opportunity to apply permaculture design and help the animals regain some sort of balance.
 
chip sanft
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R Ranson wrote:
Dale Hodgins wrote:Snakes are seldom seen here in the city ,despite abundant habitat. Domestic cats are everywhere.

Seems like this thread is being a bit hard on cats. It's not their fault for doing what they do naturally. If they are causing a problem, surely this would be a great opportunity to apply permaculture design and help the animals regain some sort of balance.


I wonder what permaculture ideas people have for what we could do about the neighbors' cats coming into the yard and killing snakes. This seems to happen to us -- at least something kills snakes without eating them. It has happened at night, when we and the dog are all asleep. I make urbanite piles for snakes etc. to hide in but would love to find a better solution.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I work all over Victoria, but mostly James Bay, Fairfield and Oak Bay, cutting trees, digging, hauling and demolishing buildings. I do see snakes from time to time, mostly in Saanich. Saw one pointed nose snake, the size of an earth worm. At my land near Nanaimo, I see them every day. No rats or cats there. No invasive European wall lizards there. Lots of alligator lizards. Three races of garter snakes. Pieces of slate on south slope of hugelkultur provide hot basking. They sometimes go under the slate, and can heat up while avoiding birds of prey.
 
Todd Parr
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I have cats, dogs, chickens, bees, ... My chickens are far harder on small living creatures than my cats are.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Oh chickens are awful! I've seen them running past with baby snakes, lizards, frogs, you name it clutched in their beaks! Now that it's warm enough for those critters to be active, I've shut up my chickens in their run with a nice big compost heap which they can destroy to their hearts' content.

 
Todd Parr
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Oh chickens are awful! I've seen them running past with baby snakes, lizards, frogs, you name it clutched in their beaks! Now that it's warm enough for those critters to be active, I've shut up my chickens in their run with a nice big compost heap which they can destroy to their hearts' content.



Same here. I have planted all sorts of berry bushes and plants for them and made piles of wood chips and things for them. They can stay in there until I get electric chicken net.
 
Philip Hyndman
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Without getting deeper into the pro versus anti cat debate, the original topic is how to maintain lizards etc with cats. the answer is just provide them shelter.

To provide shelter you just need a garden and your house. Lizards will find many things to hide under that you can’t even see. The more complex your garden infrastructure (layers) the more wildlife you’ll have. Simple. Let nature do the rest.

Cats love to catch lizards, and they will, but lizards are also usually in large enough numbers to survive the predators habit, and they also adapt their behaviour and start hiding quite well. Lizards are far less visible when a cat is about. Take the cat away and the next day, yes literally, lizards were out having sex on the steps – right in front of the children. They know what’s going on and adjust behaviour accordingly.

Here's how I judge environmental impact - on this and most topics.

When I came to my place 15 years ago, the block was grass, 100%, very little suburban wildlife. After 10 years it was a complex garden ecosystem with lots of suburban wildlife. I then introduced two key predators. Now this is the important bit: the wildlife equation was far in the positive as compared to when it was 100% grass, so despite introducing predators into that, nature is still way ahead from the human suburban wasteland it was before. Crying about a caught bird and lizard is pointless.

So the equation is thus: as long as you have added to the environment, it’s cool to keep cats, as nature still wins.

So chill out and leave the cats alone. Cats are super cool beings, so cool that if you’re into meditation or a path to enlightenment, you need to study and learn from our feline brothers, they’ve got it down pat baby, zen style - apart from the little inherent overwhelming anxiety problem.
 
chip sanft
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Philip Hyndman wrote:Without getting deeper into the pro versus anti cat debate, the original topic is how to maintain lizards etc with cats. The answer is just provide them shelter.

To provide shelter you just need a garden and your house. Lizards will find many things to hide under that you can’t even see. The more complex your garden infrastructure (layers) the more wildlife you’ll have. Simple. Let nature do the rest...


I'm really interested in this topic because this -- lizards etc. just need shelter, which is already there -- has not been my experience. There are many free-roaming cats in my neighborhood and they're my neighbors' pets. I actively provide reptile shelter and still saw some killed last year, which meant more slugs, which meant less food for us from the garden (and wasted beer). I'm hoping some folks have permie solutions for dealing with cats. It seems to me like calling animal control is the only one left and I don't want to do that.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I don't know of any jurisdiction where animal control would show up because of cats in the garden.

A good dog that chases cats, can be quite effective at keeping a small area cat free. Sling shots and air horns work for a moment.
.....
I like cats and I admire their style. If there's a really comfortable spot, a cat will find it. They are very easy going, often affable, serial killers. Being unemployed, many take up hunting, purely for the sport of it. My friend's cat always has food in his dish. Still, he has killed hundreds of birds and other creatures that he does not eat. A bad rat bite, put him off of those long ago. He's also careful about raccoons. So, he patrols the neighborhood, every day, getting petted and fed by people who know him, and randomly killing every harmless creature that he encounters. Reminds me of a teen aged idiot, with a pellet gun.
 
chip sanft
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I don't know of any jurisdiction where animal control would show up because of cats in the garden.


Animal control will get involved about cats here in Knoxville TN. It's just as illegal for a cat to run loose as it is for a dog. But I don't want to trap my neighbors' pets.

We have a chihuahua mix and she'll yap any cat that enters right back out again if she she's outside. But at night she's always inside with us, and that's when the killing happens. I'd like a permaculture solution.
 
Tyler Ludens
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There's a theory that pet yard cats will repel other cats who enter the property, because of their territoriality. So, theoretically, if you have a non-hunting pet yard cat (we had one like this, but she's now a house cat), you won't have stray cats hunting in your yard. We believed the "cats will repel cats" theory until our two yard cats recently adopted a stray cat. Now we have three yard cats.
 
raven ranson
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Cat's hunt, it's what they do naturally, it is their nature, it is not fair to them to ask them to change. We'll be trying to teach dogs to lay eggs next or cows to stand in lakes of their own manner. It's not the cat's fault that they hunt. Picking on the cat is not a solution. (no, I'm not a cat lover, I just respect animals and don't like it when people try to force them to change their nature to suit the human's whim.)

In my experience, every 'predator problem' has its roots in human behaviour. If we are going to find a solution, then education is going to be a big part of it. Education seems to be one of the things we struggle with in permaculture. We know that the 'weeds' in the front lawn are actually a food polyculture, but being able to keep our polyculture intact involves educating the authorities that are accustom to monoculture food production. There are education campaigns to teach people not to feed wildlife like raccoons (who kill far more and far more cruelly and enthusiastically than cats, in my experience), surely there could be something about not feeding feral pets. There are already laws about dogs in most highly populated areas, there could be something about cats just as easily. Modifying the human behaviour will go a long way towards a solution.

Observation is another cornerstone of any permaculture solution. Are cats the only predator where you live? Are they actually what's killing the snakes? To make a solution we need to identify the actual problem. Remember the 1980s campaigns where air pollution was attributed to littering? Or maybe cats are just one of several predators? Maybe cats are part of the problem, but are only part?

We can also use our observation skills to watch how cats hunt and how pray react. Do cats want open areas, dense vegetation, do they avoid certain plants, are they attracted to other plants, is there a ground texture they dislike, is the prey's food within pounce range of the cat? Are their places that pray can go that cat's cannot? Are there certain kinds of fences that cat's can not/do not climb? The first step to any permaculture solution is to observe. The second is know that what's 'true' in one part of the world, may be totally different in your actual landscape - their's no substitution for observation. But I'm preaching to the choir.

What other aspects do we use in permaculture design? I've never taken a PDC, but I suspect there are ideas there that we can apply. Making small changes. Creat Micro-areas that are prey friendly but predator cannot get to. Guardian animals. Create micro-niches that cats do not enjoy. Move the pray's food away from predatory friendly environment.

I'm sure we can brainstorm more and work together to find a solution.
 
chip sanft
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R Ranson wrote:There are already laws about dogs in most highly populated areas, there could be something about cats just as easily. Modifying the human behaviour will go a long way towards a solution.

Observation is another cornerstone of any permaculture solution. Are cats the only predator where you live? Are they actually what's killing the snakes? To make a solution we need to identify the actual problem. ..
I'm sure we can brainstorm more and work together to find a solution.


Letting a cat run loose is already illegal here, exactly the same as a dog, and I could get the city involved. That'd mean live-trapping the cats and sending them to the pound. Every cat owner should know letting a cat run loose is illegal and they just don't seem to care. I don't want to get in an argument and I don't want to send cats off to likely euthanasia.

Domestic cats are the only predator I've seen around here that would kill and then leave the food laying on the ground, especially more than once.

I'd love to hear from people who have experience dealing effectively with problem cats.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I agree with the idea of human causation. People have created the dense predator load.

There are many more types of predator at the farm. I've seen eagles, several types of hawks and owls, ravens, raccoons and mink. Bears and cougars also roam the area. All of these are spread thinly, according to natural food supply. They all find their own food.

The problem with cats is that they exist in very dense clusters. Wherever people live in dense communities, cats abound. Every city block has many more predators than could ever be supported by available prey. People feed these cats. In a natural system, a sparrow or thrush, can go about it's business for long periods, without being observed and pursued by a predator. Those eyes, ears and talons are spread over vast areas. Domestic cats have very small territories and can therefore patrol every bit of it, several times a day. Wild cats can go for weeks without returning to the same spot. This gives their prey a reprieve, and they don't become locally extinct.
 
raven ranson
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chip sanft wrote:
Domestic cats are the only predator I've seen around here that would kill and then leave the food laying on the ground, especially more than once.


We have plenty of predators that do that. Raccoons are our biggest cause of uneaten prey. They kill for fun and when they do attack for food, they like their food to be alive. A bunch got in my ducks and only ate the livers out of the ones who didn't die right away. When they were full, they killed the rest for fun - we know this because that's when we came upon the scene. Raccoons are also a major issue in our city. I suspect they are much higher density than cats. That's a problem-focused discussion for another day.

But that's here, you're area is obviously going to be different.


It sounds like what you have is a human problem rather than a cat problem. If you're not willing to use the legal solution, then education is your best weapon against the problem. It's pretty amazing how many pet owners don't realize there are legal or ethical requirements to them keeping a predator as a housemate. Write to your local paper, start a blog about the diversity you are trying to preserve, put up posters... there are lots of paths to educate the public.

There are some great ideas in this thread already about design options for protecting pray. I'm sure we could move this discussion back to that kind of topic.
 
chip sanft
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R Ranson wrote:
There are some great ideas in this thread already about design options for protecting pray. I'm sure we could move this discussion back to that kind of topic.


I agree completely. I'd love to hear some more permaculture ways people have protected local prey from predators including but not limited to cats.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think the massive numbers of raccoons are mostly due to the extirpation of larger predators. http://www.whateats.com/what-eats-raccoons

The main habitat types we're trying to create are rockpiles and brushpiles. Making brushpiles is actually an activity which helps keep our taxes low thanks to Texas Wildlife Management tax status. We're managing for songbirds and amphibians. One important thing is to make the brushpile pretty fluffy, and not too large with big branches or whole trees. Big dense brushpiles are popular nesting sites for raccoons. On the other hand, big brushpiles can be nesting sites for Black Vultures, one of my favorite birds. One year we had them nesting in a giant brushpile left from when this land was cleared partly prior to sale. That pile has mostly turned to compost now, with young trees growing through it.

The lower side of my kitchen garden is one big long rockpile.

 
Casie Becker
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Our cats don't like to walk on the wood mulch in our garden beds. This is some pretty coarse stuff, which leaves enough room for many smaller snakes and lizards to actually hide within them. This is another one of those areas where it helps not to make things to smooth. A bed that has irregular mounds of mulch creates more hiding spaces than one that has been raked smooth.

On the other hand, one of the cats travels around the yard from one rock to the next because she also doesn't want to step in the grass. As she is the one that we've seen hunt, I suspect she finds the rocks to be convenient hunting perches.

I'm attaching a picture with my hand (fingers angled to hide dirty nails ) next to the mulch to give you an idea of how coarse I mean.
010.jpg
[Thumbnail for 010.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Definitely, Casie, a bumpy texture in the landscape provides more places to hide, also more edge for all those wonderful edge benefits.
 
Lorinne Anderson
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Ideally, Cats should never be allowed to roam and predate on wildlife as they kill for entertainment rather than food or hunger. Particularity in spring and summer, all little songbirds learn to fly from the ground up. They fledge the nest, basically glide to the ground, and remain there, in the care of their parents while their tail feathers grow out (they would be damaged in the confines of the nest). Depending on bird species, this process takes any where from a few days to several weeks. A cat on the loose will pick off every baby bird as it fledges, this is one of, if not the most common cause of songbird depletion in our world.

Neighbor cats can be controlled with "electric mesh rabbit fencing". This is a product that is about three feet high, 150 feet long, and is a mesh, not wires, and has the effect of a static shock, not a harmful or dangerous shock. It comes with step on posts that you then string the mesh from. This makes it portable, so you can also use it to create moveable pasture for chickens or ducks. Cost is about $150 available from Kencove Farm Fence supplies. http://www.kencove.com listed under rabbit fencing, or mesh fenciing or electric fencing - can't remember, its been a while.

Cats can also be fitted with a collar bib. This is essentially a flap that is a modified triangle that hangs from the collar to their knees (using an unwanted mouse pad, cut so that the top is the width of the cats neck, and fold over, and sew a pocket or channel to feed dog - not breakaway cat collar - collar thru. Then cut the bottom so that it hangs an inch or so below the cats knees, and a couple of inches wider than the cats normal stance) that eliminates the ability to hunt. As they crouch to pounce the flap interferes with the strike, rendering the attack useless.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Chicken wire over basking areas would seem to be a partial solution.
.....
A wild predator like a raccoon, killing fenced in domestic prey, is not the same as a domestic cat killing for sport.

In the first case, humans have made sitting ducks out of creatures that evade predators in their wild state. Thus, it is the human who must protect them. In the second, humans support an unnaturally high predator load that captures wild prey. In this case, it's our job to control the cat.
 
Philip Hyndman
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chip sanft wrote:
R Ranson wrote:
There are some great ideas in this thread already about design options for protecting pray. I'm sure we could move this discussion back to that kind of topic.


I agree completely. I'd love to hear some more permaculture ways people have protected local prey from predators including but not limited to cats.


Its very easy, you just need a garden, and a house generally provides great shelter too. Being a permie, your garden will of course have lots of undergrowth, leaf, stick and wood debris. Lizards are extremely good at seeing these as shelter and hide everywhere. Therefore, there is no need for complicated structures and such. Nature does it all. In a garden that replicates a more natural environment, loads of shelter is provided already. To be more specific, lizards need a place small enough that the big lumbering cat cant get under. Any low lying wood of any structure or form will do the trick. I have wooden walk ways that they hide under for example.

The other question is, why do you want to starve the predators? You're a predator, and predators have just as much right to food as the prey do, when they are in fact a predator. Provide shelter for the prey, and the predators will appreciate it as prey numbers will increase, the prey will appreciate it as it gives them a fighting chance and ability to prolfierate. If predator gets a prey, so what? Everyone wins, and its so easy to do, just have a multi layered garden, and animals will hide within that.

Remember folks, the buddhists make the promise "not to kill a living being" as an on purpose impossible conundrum to find oneself in. Find the answer to that and you will achieve enlightenment

Now, I have to go and kill some rats, as since the cats have gone the rats returned immediately. I am going to kill for FUN. I will NOT be eating the rats. If cats were so effective at killing wildlife, there would be no rats in suburbia, but there are.
 
Philip Hyndman
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Dale Hodgins wrote:

.....humans have made sitting ducks out of creatures that evade predators in their wild state. Thus, it is the human who must protect them. In the second, humans support an unnaturally high predator load that captures wild prey. In this case, it's our job to control the cat.


This is a good point and what most of us environmentalists think. My experience in all matters environmental management is, you're better to work with nature, not against it.

Using that philosophy, best not to fight cats but improve the environment so it is able to accommodate a predator, and nature is extremely good at doing this. To fight the cat, you have more chance fighting ISIS, i.e a very difficult path, non pragmatic and likely to fail and cause great frustration.

To solve the cat problem we could kill all cats. This is what I once wanted to do, have them outlawed, de sexed and slowly wipe them out. Firstly, how evil and authoritarian is that? Its appalling. How impractical is that? Very. How incendiary is that? Very. My aim of course was to sustain wildlife, but I found working with nature, increasing the productivity of the ecosystem, as a far more workable management program to reach my goal, and hey presto, it works.

If one thinks killing a persons pet cat is a viable form of control - and no im not saying you do but environmentalists like to do it - one has a problematical moral dilemma there. Cats are loved by people, like children are, and thus killing loved pet cats is basically the same as human murder from a moral perspective.
 
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Okay guys, before we advocate killing cats and risk upsetting more people, I've asked our Mother Tree to have a look at this thread. We seem to have gotten away from the original topic which was...


ANy in general comments about the northern fence lizard and gardening? How about dealing with dense growth, snakes and 2 year olds?


Is there a way we can help the original poster with her problem without picking on felix?
 
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