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Endangered birds or feral cats? Which do we save?

By Gary Bogue
Monday, February 25th, 2008 at 8:06 am in Birds, Cats, Endangered species.

Only 115 pairs of the endangered piping plover are left on Cape May, New Jersey beaches. They nest there during the summer. Because they nest on the ground, they are vulnerable to predators, including wild house cats, foxes and other animals.

Cape May’s beaches also have a population of feral cats that are being cared for by local volunteers in a trap, neuter and release program.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service originally wanted the feral cat colonies moved back a mile from the beach to keep the cats from injuring or killing the birds. Cat lovers said this would have meant eliminating all feral cats from Cape May and they dug in their heels and resisted. This led to a compromise proposal to move the cat colonies at least 1,000 feet from the beach, and a half-mile from areas already identified as plover nesting grounds.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it was skeptical of the compromise and is considering withholding millions of dollars in federal sand replenishment funds for the beach. This has the town in a huge tizzy … pitting the local bird lovers against the local cat lovers against the Cape May City Council.

The plovers start returning to Cape May to nest around March 15, so that doesn’t leave much time to decide what to do.

Residents of the city are split down the middle on this. The city received 600 e-mails in one day from local cat lovers against moving the cats. But the New Jersey Audubon Society is equally distressed. Cape May is one of the prime bird-watching spots in all of North America. The World Series of Birding is held there every year.

Similar debates are being held in many communities across the country. Cat lovers in Benicia, California, want to feed feral cat colonies that live in local marshes around the city to keep them from starving to death. Members of the local Audubon Society would prefer that they didn’t because they kill wild birds and other wildlife.

How does this get resolved? Should birds die so that cats might live? Or vice versa? Is there a compromise solution that would make both sides happy and keep cats AND birds alive?

Any ideas?

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No Responses to “Endangered birds or feral cats? Which do we save?”

  1. Karen Says:

    Where might we welcome feral cats? My parents lived in a rural area of the San Joaquin Valley, and welcomed any critter who might hunt gophers or mice. True, there were birds about, but not endangered ones, and the rodents kept the cats very busy indeed.

    Everything costs, but if the funding were to be found, can’t the feral cats be located to areas where humans will find them helpful? I’ve seen a semi-feral cat kill and eat a mouse; the mouse’s demise was certainly as quick as being caught in a trap, and much less painful than being poisoned. (That cat always had access to cat food, but she’d ignore it unless the hunting had been unusually bad.)

    Sounds like a problem of matching up feline resource managers with excess rodent resources. :-)

  2. Pat in Antioch Says:

    Sadly, if the cats don’t get the birds, it’s probably only a matter of time before the piping plover meets the same fate as the wolves of a few columns ago….brought back from the endangered list only to be added to the list of things that can now be hunted. As humans, the powers that be seem to make it a lose/lose situation.


  3. Maggie Says:

    I think a compromise is to invest money to build an enclosed area for the feral cats to live – a large area that they cannot get out of. Have then all spayed and neutered. If any are already pregnant, remove the kittens as young as possible and they can become socialized and be adopted out as pets. I love cats – I have three rescued ones, but we have to protect the birds, especially endangered species. We must find the most humane way possible to do this – humane for the cats I mean…It is not ok for those cats to be killing Snowy Plovers. We have the same problem on the beaches here in the Bay Area, only it’s from people allowing their dogs off-leash on the beaches where the plovers nest. These are ground nesting birds, they don’t stand a chance against cats, dogs, or humans!

  4. Bird Advocate Says:

    It should be clear ethically, morally, and lawfully which animal we have a duty to protect.

  5. Bird Advocate Says:

    Karen: “Sounds like a problem of matching up feline resource managers with excess rodent resources.”

    Unfortunately cats do not differentiate between other destructive pests and endangered species of animals.

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