Efforts underway to get a more accurate count of feral cats, reduce concentrated populations

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Just about all of us have seen feral cats on Oahu and on the neighbor islands, but exactly how many of them are there?

There have been estimates, but those estimates are likely to be wrong.

“It’s estimated that we have 40,000 feral cats here on Maui,” said Katie Shannon of the Maui Humane Society. “But it’s really based on a ‘finger in the air’ estimate.” To get a more accurate count, the Maui Humane Society is starting an island-wide survey in August, using tools developed by animal welfare groups and conservation scientists in Washington, D.C.

“It involves house surveys, it involves transect surveys, and it involves actually placing cameras in areas throughout the island,” said Shannon. Field cameras will be set up near known colonies, while volunteers will also do manual counts. The effort is expected to take four months.

On Oahu, the feral cat population is said to top more than 300,000. The Hawaiian Humane Society has just completed its cat count at 15 locations and is now awaiting the numbers.

“We’re going to find out the hot spots of where there’s a high concentration of free-roaming cats, and we’re going to be able to target those areas to help reduce those populations,” said Thomas Hanns of the Hawaiian Humane Society.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources says cats are one of the most devastating predators of Hawaii’s wildlife. Besides eating native birds and insects, their feces carry the parasite toxoplasmosis, which is known to kill monk seals and sicken humans.

“Over time we’re hoping to work with our conservation partners,” said Hanns. “If there’s a high population free-roaming cat area somewhere near wildlife that they shouldn’t be, we can start focusing our efforts there.”

That will mean more focused TNR — trapping, neutering and releasing feral cats. It’s a compromise for cat-lovers, who’ve protest past plans to cull the population.

“I think it will also help us in understanding where spay-neuter is needed,” said Shannon. “The TNR program is so vital in managing humanely the cat populations.”

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