While there are many issues on Kauai people don’t agree on, pretty much everyone agrees that something must be done about the feral cat population. There are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 of them on this island. There are cats outside shopping centers, schools and resorts, and roaming neighborhoods, parks and beaches.
And while many feel sorry for them and even feed them, they’re not cute pets. They can be destructive and take a toll on the island’s precious birds.
That was one reason that last year, the nine-member Feral Cat Task Force concluded its goal was to have “zero feral, abandoned and stray cats on the island by the year 2025,” according to the group’s 113-page final report. That seems like a pretty lofty — certainly expensive — goal. For others, it’s an absolutely necessary one to protect Kauai’s endangered birds.
One local nonprofit is working on a solution.
The Kauai Community Cat Project is a 6-year-old organization that believes managed cat colonies that undergo a trap, neuter and release (TNR) regimen quickly stabilize and gradually decrease over time. It has increased the number of cats it traps, has spayed or neutered and returns to managed cat colonies from about 300 cats in 2012 to 510 cats in 2014. It operates on donations and grants of about $80,000 a year. It could use more money and more volunteers.
Now, perhaps it seems hopeless that the feral cat population could be effectively managed and reduced in this manner, and that it would take a long time. Some fear that some of the island’s native forest bird species face extinction if something isn’t done about feral cats soon. We agree but aren’t convinced trapping and killing them is the final solution.
TNR is less costly than trapping, euthanizing and disposing of the bodies. But cats aren’t the only threat to the island’s birds. The rat population would rise the day feral cats no longer roam this island, and rats also take a toll on the bird population by eating their eggs. Another big threat is mosquitoes, which spread avarian disease. And the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project lists feral goats, feral pigs, forest clearing, invasive plant species and climate change as threats to native forest birds. So feral cats are part of the problem facing Kauai’s birds, not the only problem.
Kauai doesn’t want to be known as the island that wiped out thousands of feral cats. It would probably cost millions and there’s no guarantees feral cats could be eradicated faster than they could multiply.
The million-dollar question, of course, is what’s to be done?
Recommendations proposed by the Feral Cat Task Force call for the creation of “a robust trap, neuter, release and manage program” that would monitor cat colonies and eventually thin out the island’s feral cat population over time in two phases.
The first phase, which would end in 2020, would require trap, neuter, release and monitor colonies to be “rigorously registered, certified and monitored” and have a minimum 90 percent spay or neuter rate. Under this proposal, sick and injured cats would be removed, while new arrivals to the colony or new litters of kittens “would be removed and made available for adoption or euthanasia.”
By the second phase, all cat colonies “must be located on private property, completely fenced, registered, certified and monitored.” Unregistered cats found in areas not recognized as trap, neuter, release and monitor colonies would be trapped and either given up for adoption or euthanized.
The $30,000 task force study makes some other recommendations. Those include strengthening the county’s cat licensing ordinance by releasing more funds for the Kauai Humane Society to hire more humane officers; imposing stiff fines for cat abandonment; and broadening the county’s definition of cat owners to include colony caretakers. Feeding, sheltering or caring for cats on any county-owned or managed properties would be prohibited unless explicit permission is given. County officials should also enforce penalties for owners of stray cats captured away from their own properties. Implementing a public education program is also key to reducing the island’s feral cat population by promoting responsible ownership.
Those are commendable and fair recommendations, and over time will have an impact. An aggressive TNR program could be the most effective and humane approach and one that will, over time, protect Kauai’s birds.