THE FURY OF FERAL

A NEW SET OF RULES PASSED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES HAS SOME ANIMAL ORGANIZATIONS WORRIED ABOUT THE LIVES OF WILDCATS

As you walk along the Ke`ehi Harbor, right next to the Hawaii Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, cats with gleaming eyes and bat sharp ears can be seen, roaming around by the bushes or under the cars, until they hear noises, and soon melt into the shadows with their silent paws. These are feral cats.  

 

Feral cats now are facing a drastic change that will no longer allow them to stay at state harbors and facilities in Hawaii. In September, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) passed new amendments to the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. Part of the rules will authorize the state officers to “destroy feral cats or dogs by any means necessary.”

 

Ed Underwood, the administrator for the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said the rule is to address the problem of the overpopulation of feral cats.

 

“The law said to destroy feral cats by any means necessary which is, however, you put the animals down, euthanasia, shooting, whatever it may be,” Underwood said.

 

The wording of the rule change has animal organizations and cat-lovers worried about the lives of wildcats in Hawaii.

 

Part of the changes include:

§13-126- 23. (c) Animal pets are not permitted in wildlife sanctuaries, except as authorized by
the board or its authorized representative, or by the rules of the department. Any animal, such as
a dog or cat, found roaming and loose in a state wildlife sanctuary may be impounded or
destroyed. (Hawaii Administrative Rules, Chapter 126.)

“It’s a public health issue. There’s food left all over the harbors, and their feces is not cleaned up,” Underwood said.

 

The department is concerned that feral cats are contributing to the spread of diseases, like toxoplasmosis, which is killing monk seals and other native species.

 

“Not only that, cats have a potential of releasing toxoplasmosis through their feces into the water which affect our marine mammals. So, having cat colonies along the shoreline is not a good idea,” said Underwood.

 

Hundreds of feral cats are still roaming around at the state harbors and facilities in Hawaii. They always keep a safe distance but are often drawn to the food from the cat caregivers who feed them every day.

Cat feces are killing endangered marine mammals?


§13-126- 23. (c) Animal pets are not permitted in wildlife sanctuaries, except as authorized by
the board or its authorized representative, or by the rules of the department. Any animal, such as
a dog or cat, found roaming and loose in a state wildlife sanctuary may be impounded or
destroyed. (Hawaii Administrative Rules, Chapter 126.)

 

 

These little hunters are spreading a disease that has killed at least eight Hawaiian monk seals over the years.

 

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Cats can get toxoplasma infection by killing and eating infected prey. They are required for this parasite to reproduce, and they are the only animal in which Toxoplasmosis gondii eggs are produced, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA.)

 

“The high concentration of feces and urine, that’s in the environment because of an unregulated cat population,” said David Schofield, the Regional Marine Mammal Response Program Coordinator for NOAA.

 

Schofield said other animals and people could carry this disease and become ill from it. But only the feral cats shed the oocyst of toxoplasmosis into the environment.

 

“The issue is that people feed cats but they don’t clean up after them, so it’s an incomplete cycle,” said Schofield. “There is so much (unclean) food going into the environment, and it’s just an irresponsible process.”

 

More than 52,000 people on Oahu are feeding at least one cat they don’t consider their own. This population of cats includes lost, abandoned and feral, according to the Humane Society. No one knows exactly who they are, but these people often take cares of the cats and make sure they are fed every day.

 

But now, feeding feral cats at state harbors is also prohibited.

 

People who support the new rules said the feral cats have caused a serious health and environment problems at the harbors.


“You can smell the feces and urine and the flies. And it is really bad,” said Joni Bagood, of the Mokauea Fishermen's Association. “There’s a lot of fishermen that fish

here, at the piers and at Mauli ola side, you don’t know what’s

in the fish that they catch. If the monk seals are already dying

because of the disease that comes from feral cats’ feces, can you

imagine what the fish is injecting?”


Feral cats are sensitive animals. Every step walking closer to

them, they are prowling into the dark, as they are scared of people,

who might hurt them or even take away their lives.


Though the stray cats can not speak for themselves, cat lovers

and animal advocates around the states are fighting for them.


Becky Robinson, the president of Alley Cat Allies, said that they

strongly oppose the broad authority to lethally remove feral

animals.


The non-profit organization believes that Trap-Neuter- Return

(TNR), which traps the cats, and brings them to a veterinarian to

be spayed or neutered before being returned to their outdoor

colonies, is the only approach consistent with the Aloha Way, and

it is the only way to bring cat populations under control.


Robinson said it is inhumane, retrogressive and ineffective to kill animals, and killing cats will not help reduce their populations.


“We have problems with cat colonies in several of our harbors,” said Underwood. “ We tried to work with the people in the Humane Society as well as the cat caregivers here, but have no success.”


Underwood said after they tried different approaches to solve the issue, the department had to adopt rules to make it clear that unless they have permission, people cannot establish colonies in the harbor.


The Humane Society expressed their concern for the stray animals at the harbors. The extreme rules are threatening the feral cats.

 

“The issue is that people feed cats but they don’t clean up after them, so it’s an incomplete cycle,” said Schofield. “There is so much (unclean) food going into the environment and it’s just an irresponsible process.”

“Our problem with these rules is that they threaten the work of people who are actually caring for free roaming cats by providing them with their surgeries and those who volunteers are helping to reduce the population of cats,” said Stephanie Kendrick, the policy advocate of the Hawaii Humane Society. “We think their work is very important, and it shouldn’t be punished by the state.”

The Humane Society said the rule is an “extremely cruel approach.” The new amendments do not just apply to feral cats or dogs, but it would also apply to any pet animals that are loose on state boat harbors.

“We think that is cruel both to people and disregards their feelings as pet owners, and obviously it’s very cruel to animals,” said Kendrick.

 

The new changes in rules are raising conflicts and controversy in the community. With opinions from the animal groups and advocates, the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation have a different perspective on the issue.

“I think the opposition from the public is coming from the vocal minority. It doesn’t represent the majority of the public,” said Underwood. “ I feel like if you go out and talk to the public, they will all tell you that it’s just not a good idea to have them (feral cats) in the small boat harbors.”

 

The adopted amendments are now headed to Governor Ige's office for final approval.

It is a typical morning at the harbor, sunlight is streaming through the boats. The feral cats continue to stroll with their Gollum-silent paws, unaware of the judgments and controversy surrounding them.  No one knows what is going to happen to the cats now that feeding is prohibited in the harbors.

 

When the night falls, they slink away and blend into the dark as usual, until they want to come out again.

Written By : Teresa Ruan

Published: Dec. 13, 2017

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