McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Opinion

November 21, 2013

ROBBERS CAVE STATE PARK

Feral wildlife of the Oklahoma woodlands

McALESTER — Have you ever thought about your nice, fuzzy, warm kitty cat turning into a cruel, merciless killer? What if you woke up in the middle of the night to discover your furry, four-legged fissiped standing on your chest, ready to attack. Would that scare you?

If you have a cat like ours, probably not. Emma weighs about 20 pounds and often when she tries to jump up on the bed, she only makes it part way up before falling back on the floor in a heap of chubby cat fur. If she had to catch her own dinner, she’d never survive.

Emma spends about 20 hours a day sleeping and an hour eating and maybe three hours awake. I’m not quite sure why, but even at that she’s still nice to have around. When I’m snoozing in the recliner on cold winter days, she sleeps on my lap, or if I stretch out on the bed under the electric blanket, she quickly takes her place on the bed spread to absorb the blanket’s warmth. Now that I think about it, maybe she’s a reflection of her owners. She’s comfortable being here with us and we’re content to have her around.

Some animal relationships aren’t that amiable. Out where we live, there’s a number of feral felines that come around and create havoc. They’re descendants of once tamed cats that were either lost or discarded and after several generations, their offspring have become as wild as their surroundings.

In times past, animals were often set free in order to control some other animal or plant population that was considered a pest. Examples are found on South Pacific islands where European rabbits were introduced to contain the spread of unwanted vegetation or as a food supply. Before long, the island was covered with feral rabbits; then cats were introduced to control the rabbit population. But the cats also ate the desirable native lizards and drove them into extinction. It proved to be a bad outcome for a well-intentioned plan.

Just like other parks all across the U.S., Robbers Cave has an occasional problem with feral cats. Their introduction can have a big impact on the natural balance of both plant and animal life in an otherwise healthy ecosystem. In fact, feral cats are the most common nuisance worldwide, and cats have been blamed for the extinction of over 33 species. So Robbers Cave State Park has to carefully monitor the forests and eliminate any inadvertently introduced feral animals, fish, birds and plants. It’s a big job, but one that’s necessary to maintain the natural balance of wildlife and vegetation. 

We all need to think about our impact upon nature. Our parks are beautiful places where we can come to enjoy the elegance of the forests, but it’s important that when we leave, we take everything we brought to the park back home with us and discard our trash in the provided trash Dumpsters, not on the ground.

Above all, don’t forget to take your dogs and cats and especially your kids back home too. We don’t want any future feral adults wandering through the woods … hey, you know the thought just occurred to me, you don’t suppose that’s where Bigfoot came from do you? I’ll bet it is!

Daniel Parks is the scout camp director and public campground coordinator for Robbers Cave State Park. Contact him at danp@kiamichiwb.org.

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