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Google Nurtures Cats That Eat Threatened Owls



(p. 1) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Silicon Valley is booming, and longtime residents are being driven out everywhere. But only in Shoreline Park are the newcomers eating the natives.

A handful of burrowing owls live in this 750-acre wildlife and recreation area, deep in the grass. As the breeding season begins, they are among perhaps 50 left in Silicon Valley. A California species of "special concern," burrowing owls nest in the ground. That makes them especially vulnerable.

Death strikes hard at Shoreline. The remains of an owl -- a leg, a wing, a few scattered feathers -- were found here in 2015, shortly after a feral cat was seen stalking it. Another owl was discovered dead near its burrow, and a third disappeared that year and was presumed killed. That was fully half the owls nesting in the park.

Environmentalists have been alarmed for a long time about the number of cats at Shoreline, but they could not determine where they were coming from. Gradually, public records requests and old-fashioned snooping uncovered a trail. It led southwest from the sun-burnished slopes of the park, up Permanente Creek and into the ever-expanding empire of Google.

Google never set out to threaten biodiversity in its front yard, of (p. 4) course. Like so many stories these days about Big Tech, this is a tale about how attempts to do good often produce unexpected consequences, and how even smart people (especially, perhaps, smart people) can be reluctant to rethink their convictions.

At Google, it is not so much that workers do not like birds as it is that they really love cats. There is an employee group called GCat Rescue that traps the cats around the so-called Googleplex. Kittens and friendly adults are put up for adoption. Less-friendly adult cats are neutered and released.

Google is famous for feeding its employees well, and the cats are no different. Every night, all night, dinner is served from cat-feeding stations. The cat community calls this approach "colony care."


. . .


"Cats that are fed still hunt," said Mr. Longcore, assistant professor of architecture, spatial sciences and biological sciences at the University of Southern California. "Even neutered cats and spayed cats hunt." He added, "If you have an outdoor cat sanctuary, you can expect there to be consequences to the native wildlife."



For the full story, see:

Streitfeld, David. "Google Doesn't Hate Owls. It Just Loves Cats." The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 27, 2018): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2018, and has the title "As Google Feeds Cats, Owl Lovers Cry Foul." The online version says the print version appeared on May 6 on p. A17 of the New York Edition. My print version, as usual, was the National Edition.)






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