The Day When Cats Saved Human Lives
In the 1950s, the British RAF parachuted hundreds of cats down into Sarawak, Borneo to control the burgeoning rat population.
Perhaps you are a cat lover. Perhaps you abhor cats. But whatever be the case, there is no way you would ever consider these supposedly lazy felines napping all day to be an indispensable part of your very existence.
Cats are cute, lazy, and well ‘useless’. Aren’t they?
Wrong. Experts say that if all the world's cats suddenly died, our sweet Earth would quickly turn into the darkest hell. According to Alan Beck, professor of veterinary medicine and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University.
“They’re expert predators with adaptable hunting behaviors. They are a significant predator of small animals, and can survive as almost solitary animals when the prey is scarce, while thriving in high density when the prey is abundant,"
In simple words, by killing mice and other small rodents, in barns and grain storage areas, cats are vital for keeping those pests in check. And by doing this, they indirectly play a vital role in ensuring enough food for human sustenance and survival with fewer losses due to contamination by rodents.
Without cats, the ecological chain would be disrupted, triggering a cascade of undesirable ecological effects finally culminating in human starvation and destruction of the earth.
And if you still think the idea of cats saving humans is far-fetched, you just need to go to a place called Sarawak, Borneo (Malaysia) where cats were specially parachuted in huge numbers by the British RAF in the 1950s to control the exploding population of rats and in the end, save human lives from perishing.
The operation was named ‘Operation cat-drop’ by the RAF.
The story of Operation Cat-Drop
It was the 1950s and Borneo Island in Malaysia was facing a mosquito menace. Malaria was on the rampage and the authorities requested WHO for intervention.
The WHO acted swiftly and decided to spray the insecticide DDT all over the area in a bid to eradicate all the mosquitoes. But in doing so blindly, the WHO failed to appreciate the full scope of their actions. The DDT not only killed mosquitoes but also disturbed the ecological balance triggering an eco-disaster.
It also killed a parasitic wasp population that in turn was a keeping check on a population of thatch-eating caterpillars. As the caterpillar population mushroomed, all the thatch houses of the farmers started falling apart as the caterpillars began to voraciously devour and multiply all over the thatch houses.
And if that wasn’t enough, the other insects poisoned by the DDT were consumed by geckoes. These geckoes, carrying the DDT poison, were in turn hunted and eaten by the cat population that started dying fast. With far fewer cats, rats took over and multiplied. This bizarre jump in rodent population not only led to large spread crop destruction but also caused outbreaks of typhus and sylvatic plague (which are passed on by rats).
As human beings started succumbing to the plague, the WHO realized that it has an ecological disaster in its hands that needs course correction immediately before things go out of control. They brainstormed multiple options and ultimately zeroed on to cats.
WHO and the Royal Air Force loaded cats into perforated containers and dropped them into the villages by parachute. The event was known as Operation Cat-Drop.
Our so-called ‘useless’ cats turned pied pipers and controlled the population of rats thus saving the day for the hapless Borneo residents. Later, the United States banned DDT after testimony about the deaths of cats in Borneo and other incidents. A worldwide ban on DDT was signed in 2001.
What is the moral of the story?
There is only one lesson we learn here; every action has an equal and opposite reaction at least as far as nature is concerned where nothing ever works in isolation. Therefore, it is a good idea not to play God.
The incident in Sarawak attracted attention and controversy because a well-meaning action had resulted in the disrupting of delicate ecological equilibrium. Maybe WHO did not anticipate the consequences of its actions, but all said and done, it created a disastrous domino effect that almost perished human beings in the process.
Sometimes solutions to problems create more problems than the problem at hand. So it makes sense to take a 360-degree view of all our actions at least where nature is involved as its recipient to prevent any reactive measures later in a bid to correct out follies.
As Timothy Morton has rightly said.
“Our ecological emergency demands proactive choices, not reactive sideswipes.”
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