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Federal agents target feral cats attacking endangered species on Key Largo

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
Federal agents target feral cats attacking endangered species on Key Largo

By David Fleshler
Staff Writer
Posted November 13 2003

Federal wildlife agents plan to start trapping feral cats on Key Largo in a crackdown likely to spark anger among the legions of people who take care of outdoor cats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the cats are a threat to the endangered Key Largo woodrat and Key Largo cottonmouse, as well as to migrating birds that stop there to rest.

"Each year millions of birds and small animals are killed -- not by guns or boats or vehicles but by CATS, free-roaming or feral cats," states a flyer distributed on Key Largo by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The traps will go only into the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a 6,600-acre preserve along Card Sound Road that harbors American crocodiles and other endangered species.

Once trapped, the cats will go to the Upper Keys Animal Shelter. The shelter will try to get them adopted, but its director said that genuinely feral cats -- as opposed to domesticated cats that have been dumped outdoors -- can't be adopted.

Those that aren't adopted are likely to be killed. The shelter must keep feral cats at least 72 hours before euthanizing them, said Bert Byers, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Euthanizing is always an option," he said. "That is the normal, humane thing to do."

No one could say how many cats roam the Crocodile Lake refuge. But Key Largo has several colonies of feral cats. At the Ocean Reef Club, an exclusive community just north of the refuge, about 500 cats live among the golf courses, tennis courts and housing developments. The community pays a staff to make sure each cat gets vaccinated, neutered and fed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service promised to return any cats bearing the tattoo that goes on all the Ocean Reef cats. And Byers said the trapping had the club's support. "They all know it's going to take place, and they're on board with what we're doing," he said.

Ocean Reef's dilemma
But David Ritz, Ocean Reef's administrator, said the club doesn't support the trapping campaign.

Its members believe their own trap-neuter-return program, which has reduced the cat population from 1,500 to 500, is more effective and more humane.

"We're opposed to catching and killing cats," he said. "If they have a problem with feral cats, they ought to start catching them and neutering them and moving them away from endangered animals. We've been telling them to do that for years. Now the federal and state governments are trying to do this in an inhumane way."

Cats originally lived only in northern Africa and the southwestern part of what is now Turkey.

Because cats are not native to North America, the native wildlife never evolved defenses. In Florida, where an estimated 5 million cats spend at least part of their time outdoors, vulnerable wildlife include ground-nesting birds, beach mice and other small mammals.

The Key Largo cottonmouse, which has large ears and a furry tail, is down to fewer than 1,000 animals, Byers said. The Key Largo woodrat, which builds stick nests at the base of trees, is nearing extinction. Fewer than 100 remain. While these species face many threats, Byers said feral cats are probably a factor in their decline.

"We have no absolute information about what is causing their demise," he said. "We suspect it could be disease. We suspect it could be feral cats."

It's unclear exactly when the traps will go in. The Fish and Wildlife Service says they will be placed today. But a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will be doing the work, said agents will survey the area today and probably place the traps next week.

The work will be done by the Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services division, which is best-known for killing coyotes and other predators to protect livestock.

Marsha Garrettson, director of the Upper Keys Animals Shelter, said she's been told to expect the arrival of cats, but not how many. She said the shelter adopts out 84 percent of cats that are adoptable, meaning those that are healthy and responsive to human beings. Truly feral cats, which won't let people near them, can't be adopted.

She said the shelter holds animals for "as long as humanely possible" before euthanizing them.

Feral cats gained attention this year when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a policy to discourage the maintenance of feral cat colonies because they threaten native wildlife.

Law ignites protests
The decision sparked protests by people who take care of these colonies. Alley Cat Allies, a Washington, D.C., group, filed suit to overturn to the policy, although the suit was dismissed on procedural grounds.

Donna Wilcox, executive director of Alley Cat Allies, said the federal crackdown made no more sense than the state's. She said the government should not proceed until it had hard evidence that the cats were harming endangered animals.

"I think it's terrible," she said. "It's not going to solve the problem. We don't want cats killing endangered species either, but we also don't want all the cats wiped out when they may not be the problem at all."

David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4535


post #2 of 3
And let me guess....they are using the infamous Wisconsin Study to back up that "millions of birds" claim. We've (Stray Pet Advocacy) done some scientific analysis of that study in particular that most of the anti-cat groups use and find it is not only summarily flawed, but the AUTHORS don't even back up the numbers!

We are really hoping that our two articles on Cat Predation on SPA will give people the ammunition to refute these outrageous claims that they use to justify murdering many innocent cats.

Addressing The Wisconsin Study

Feral Cat Predation and Its Effect on Wildlife: Searching for the Truth
post #3 of 3
This is so sad . I don't think that to many ferals will stay alive since we all know it take's great work to socialise (sp) the cats and some you just cant . I agree to prove first if those ferals are the real pretetors for the animal killings . I also like the idea of tnr in a different place . But the shelter wont have the time and patiance to make those cats more social . We all know that . I think that is not fair to the ferals since it is the people fould that we do have ferals . Gosh I wish people would spay and neuter they animals and not let them breed and breed and then dump them some place . I am so mad about that .
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