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Much ado about poo: Feces fuels Hawaii feral feline debate


    Cats are shown eating at feral cat colony near Honolulu on Sept. 15. Conservationists are concerned about the number of feral cats roaming Hawaii because cat feces washing into the ocean can spread toxoplasmosis, which can be deadly for endangered Hawaiian monk seals.


    A Hawaiian monk seal, an endangered species, lies on a Waikiki beach in Honolulu on Sept. 15. Conservationists are concerned about the number of feral cats roaming Hawaii because cat feces washing into the ocean can spread toxoplasmosis, which can be deadly for the seals.


    Chris Allejo, the director of operations for the spaying and neutering program run by the animal welfare group Poi Dogs and Popoki, pets cats at feral cat colony near Honolulu on Sept. 15. Conservationists are concerned about the number of feral cats roaming Hawaii because cat feces washing into the ocean can spread toxoplasmosis, which can be deadly for endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

Two wildlife issues have collided in Hawaii, pitting one group of animal defenders against another in an impassioned debate. The point of contention? Deadly cat poop and the feral felines that produce it.

Federal researchers believe feces from the legions of feral cats roaming Hawaii is spreading a disease that is killing Hawaiian monk seals, some of the world’s most endangered marine mammals. Some conservationists advocate euthanizing those cats that no one wants, and that’s got cat lovers up in arms.

“It’s a very difficult, emotional issue,” said state Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of a committee that earlier this year heard and then abandoned a proposal to ban the feeding of feral cats on state land after an outcry. “It struck a nerve in our community.”

The problem stems from a parasite common in cats that can cause toxoplasmosis, a disease that killed at least five female Hawaiian monk seals and three males since 2001, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“While eight seals may not sound like a lot of animals, it actually has pretty large ramifications for an endangered population where there’s only about 1,300 seals in existence at this point in time,” said Michelle Barbieri, veterinary medical officer for NOAA’s Hawaiian monk seal research program.

Scientists believe monk seals become exposed to toxoplasmosis by ingesting contaminated water or prey.

Felines are the only animals that can shed Toxoplasma gondii eggs, or oocysts. The parasites enter their digestive tract through infected prey then multiply in the small intestine and produce the eggs. Outdoor cats excrete the eggs in their feces, which researchers say washes into the ocean.

The eggs accumulate in invertebrates that live along the sea floor, where monk seals often feed. They can survive in fresh water, saltwater and soil for up to two years.

Any warm-blooded animal can become infected. California sea otters have died from toxoplasmosis, and it’s one of the major reasons the Hawaiian crow, alala, is extinct in the wild. Toxoplasmosis is rarely problematic for people with healthy immune systems, but it’s why doctors advise pregnant women not to handle kitty litter.

Many cities struggle with feral cats, but the problem is particularly acute in Hawaii because of its sensitive ecosystem and at-risk native species, experts say. Only two mammals are native to Hawaii: the hoary bat and the Hawaiian monk seal.

“Everything else here— deer, sheep, goats, cats, mongoose — they’re all invasive, they’re all introduced,” said Angela Amlin, NOAA’s acting Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator, adding cats have no predators in Hawaii to control their population.

Marketing research commissioned by the Hawaiian Humane Society in 2015 estimated some 300,000 feral cats roam Oahu alone.

Marine debris, climate change, predation and human interaction all threaten the survival of Hawaiian monk seals. But feral cats present their greatest disease concern, Amlin said.

“As conservationists, what we really have to look at is this is what Hawaii’s native ecosystem includes, and cats are unfortunately not part of that,” Amlin said. “When it comes to the feral cat population, there should be a program in place to bring in these animals, adopt the ones that are adoptable and humanely euthanize those that are not.”

Others take offense to that notion.

Classifying animals with labels such as native and invasive creates a “hierarchy in which the protection of certain animals comes at the suffering of others,” Hawaiian Humane Society President and CEO Pamela Burns wrote in a letter opposing the state Senate bill that would have banned cat-feeding on state land. She contended the 300,000 figure overstates the problem because the study looked at how many cats people were feeding and might have missed instances where multiple people fed the same outdoor cat.

Those who care for stray cats advocate trapping, neutering and spaying to help control their population.

The University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus, in Honolulu, started a feral cat management program — with authorized feeders trained in tasks like trapping and feces disposal — after the stench and mess from hundreds of cats prompted complaints, especially when children at a campus daycare center got flea bites, said Roxanne Adams, director of buildings and grounds.

The program started in 2011 and appears to have reduced the number of felines, she said.

Euthanizing cats is unacceptable unless they’re extremely sick, said Alicia Maluafiti, board president of animal welfare group Poi Dogs and Popoki.

“I totally disagree with the … generalization that cat people love cats more than these endangered species,” Maluafiti said. “What we just don’t advocate is the wholesale killing, the extermination, of one species … for one.”

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  • 300,000 feral cats on Oahu alone. 300,000 cats whose feces carry a disease that endangers unborn HUMAN children. And there are idiots here who are against eliminating them. Unbelievable.

    • The Humane Society is part of the problem. They support the “spay and release” program that allows these destructive animals to spread diseases to native and endangered animals. The feral cats all need to be put down. And those so-called “cat lovers” do NOT love cats, they only love themselves and being able to pat themselves on the back for being “caring” people — all while NOT truly caring for any of the cats. They leave the cats to get hit by cars, die from disease, injury, poison, fights with other animals, etc. It’s just easier to dump food on the side of the road, and then feel like they are special, caring people. And they’re willing to sacrifice endangered animals to get that “I’m a special person” feeling. It’s sickening.

  • Trap, spay, and neuter as many as possible. At the same time, they need to put in place a means of discouraging abandonment of pet cats and dogs. I suggest that they require every pet to be micro-chipped – every pet store, shelter, the humane society should micro-chip every pet they have or service; every veterinarian office should micro-chip any pets brought in for care; when stray pets are found, locate the owners through the micro-chip and severely fine the owners. Not anywhere near foolproof but it will help.

    • The problem there arises with those of us who trap, neuter, and release ferals around our neighborhoods. Each animal is microchipped when we take them in to be neutered and the chips are registered under our names. We didn’t abandon the cat, it’s a 3rd, 4th, 5th generation descendant of a cat that was abandoned and we took care of things the original owner of the great, great, great grandparent should have.

    • Sorry but twice nothing is still nothing. Since you have all the answers how and who is going to pay the cost of microchipping every kitten born to feral cats? Who do you register them to as the owner? Now do you see how flawed your plan is?

      Many feral cats come from military returning to the mainland, their leaders willfully failing to ensure they take their pets with them or turn in to a no kill shelter. Not that expensive to take back to the mainland if you budget for it.

      Lets also not forget all the feral chickens running around the Nei.

  • 300,000 feral cats on Oahu alone. 300,000 cats whose feces carry a disease that endangers unborn HUMAN children. And yet there are those here who are against eliminating them. Unbelievable.

    • Uhhh as we have seen over and over one study does not a scientific proof make. Until the study can be repeated multiple times by totally different agencies with the exact same results it is just a hypothesis.

      As with all federal work, trust but verify.

      • I agree. Eradicate these unwanted filthy animals. Just don’t have to publicize everything you do. When you go out there and say ” I’m gonna kill all these cats or whatever”, of course you’re gonna get all kinds of flack. Just make them disappear. There’s a crew of shooters that go out to the runways and shoot birds that endanger aircraft, but they’re not out there telling everyone. I see places where people feed groups of cats on a daily basis, right out in plain sight along the road. Enforcement isn’t gonna work.

        • Totally agree!!! Eradicate all feral cats, they are nuisance, filthy, and do no good for the ecosystem.

  • “California sea otters have died from toxoplasmosis, and it’s one of the major reasons the Hawaiian crow, alala, is extinct in the wild. ”

    another danger to endemic species is that trapped, neutered and released cats are still natural killers. every feral cat, neutered or not, still kills as part of its natural instincts.

    feeding and maintaining feral cats simply ensures that healthy cats continue to hunt and kill animals, including endangered endemic species. those who maintain feral cat colonies should adopt and raise them in their homes instead of feeding them in the wild.

    immediate removal of feral cat colonies is a better way to prevent the spread of toxoplasmosis and to protect hawaii’s vulnerable endemic endangered species.

  • The feral cat population has exploded on the Big Island, along with flies, particularly along the coastline. If the cat lovers love them so much, then they should round up the cats and keep them on their own property. Cats on public and other land should be culled and controlled, as with any other invasive pest. And that goes for mongoose, too.

  • Once infected with toxo, cats only shed the toxo cysts for a week or so. Then never again. Is it acceptable to euthanize cats that are no longer shedding the cysts and therefore not a threat for the rest of their lives?

    We don’t euthanize humans, but the above logic is equivalent to putting people in reverse isolation for the rest of their lives because they got swine flu and were shedding the virus for a couple of weeks?

    Or to give it the local flavor, it reminds me of how we isolated Hansen’s Disease patients at Kalaupapa for the rest of their lives. Do we want to revisit that type of scientific absurdity on our feline population?

  • Don’t feed the cats and watch them sit on the edge of a lake or the ocean and snatch a fish right out of the water. Feed them and they become lazy lay around all day doing nothing till it’s the friendly people time to come and feed them. Same thing with the homeless.

  • Cat crap is the worst! My neighbor owns approx 25 cats . . . . .all run wild. These felines deposit their stinking poop in the yard, on stonewalls, on walkways, in the garage, on the cars, on the porch, in the patio, in the garden, under the house . . . . . can’t do anything about this (so says HPD, the humane society, and the DOH).

    My yard smells like a cat outhouse . . . . .sickening!

  • Misinformation perpetuates more information. Cats shed only once – and only if they are infected. Humane Society’s stupid “guestimate” never looked at the prevalence of cats WITH toxo. False assumption that all cats have toxo. And 8 monk seals in 15 years? You gotta be kidding me. Sharks kill more monk seals annually. Does NOAA go out and start killing sharks? If they are, what a waste of taxpayer money. And the extermination of cats not only DOES NOT WORK, who is gonna pay for that? Its like the DLNR taking helicopters and flying over Big Island, shooting and killing the roaming cattle and letting them rot up there? Idiots at DLNR and NOAA. Oahu isn’t the pristine island it was in the 1700s. Move the monk seal to Lanai or Molokai or Niihau. That is the more affordable long term option.

    • yet, every feral cat, whether well fed or not, kills animals including endangered endemic species in hawaii.

      we are not advocating the elimination of every cat in hawai.

      we need to eliminate feral cats that are not adopted into private homes.

      we need to eliminate feeding of feral cat colonies.

  • If you own a cat, keep it in the house. Letting your cat run loose through the neighborhood is irresponsible, and you have no right to get angry if your cat “disappears”.

  • It is the nasty heartless attitude of the humans that have caused this problem. They get a cute kitten, then they grow up, no so cute. They don’t spayed and neuter them and they just dump them or leave them behind when they move. Probably people like the cat hater in the article!!!!Humanes have to stop be so irresponsible and inhumane!!!I don’t consider my cat just an animal. It is a member of the family.

  • We aren’t supposed to feed birds. That’s a city ordinance but people keep feeding them so not feeding cats won’t help clean up our nei.
    Get rid of the feral colonies and Hawaiian Humane Society better step up or people should stop donating to them. I donate to help their education but now I think I’m wasting money.

  • What if we were talking about rats instead of cats? Would animal welfare groups be rushing to preserve the rats? I don’t think anyone believes that. Monk seals are endangered, and domestic cats are not; the overpopulation of feral cats is not doing anyone any good, including them.

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