New policy allows waterfront cats to be killed “by any means deemed necessary”
MILILANI, Hawaii––Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources chair Suzanne Case “is moving at a hurried pace to kill cats with a lead pellet fired from a high powered pellet rifle to the head or heart,” alleges Carroll Cox––who is not just any critic of conservation policies introduced in the name of protecting native Hawaiian birds and other animals, a pursuit to which he has dedicated much of his life.
“Based on the Department of Land & Natural Resources historical inhumane treatment and killing of cats,” Cox adds, “we are concerned and do not believe the Department of Land & Natural Resources or its representatives will be ethically motivated and guided by humane measures.”
The Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources claims killing cats “by any means deemed necessary” is necessary for environmental reasons. But Cox and other concerned Hawaiian journalists have flushed out indications that the proposed lethal cat purge may at best be motivated at least as much by complaints from boaters about cats trespassing on their yachts, and at worst be a scheme to encourage neuter/return cat colony caretakers to move cats to places where they can be shot, poisoned, or trapped to be killed with less chance of the killing being observed.
Reported Brigette Namata of KHON-2, the leading Hawaiian television news channel, on September 8, 2017, “The state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources says feral cats pose risks to public health and wildlife, and they’re all over boat harbors and facilities.
“Drastic rule change”
“The Division of Boating & Ocean Recreation came up with a drastic rule change that authorizes the state to destroy feral cats or dogs by any means necessary.
“After hours of public testimony, state officials passed the rule amendment,” Namata said, to take effect in January 2019, “which gives the state a chance to work with animal advocates to track, neuter, and release feral cats out of boat harbors.
Said Division of Boating & Ocean Recreation administrator Edward Underwood, on camera, “We did not want to have to put down feral cats. We’ve reached out to the humane society on several occasions to work with us on this issue,” a somewhat odd claim in view that at least six different and unrelated, unaffiliated humane societies operate on the various islands that comprise Hawaii.
“Hopefully now this will bring them back to the table,” Underwood continued, “ to relocate them outside of the harbor. We’re not set up to destroy animals. None of our staff wants to do that either.”
“But is that a possibility?”
Asked Namata, “But is that a possibility?”
Responded Underwood, “Well, not until 2019. Hopefully what will happen is, we get together, come up with a plan and a better area to relocate these areas where they can control the intake, and they’re not in the small boat harbors.”
Finished Namata, “The state also passed a rule amendment where no one can feed or add to the existing cat colonies at the boat harbors.”
If conservation considerations are paramount, as Case and the Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources contend, why the emphasis on extirpating feral cats from boat harbors? Boat harbors are scarcely the favored habitat of any endangered or threatened species, and are about as ecologically non-sensitive as anywhere in Hawaii could be, but are among the locations where feral cats are most accessible to practitioners of neuter/return feral cat population control.
New policy works against keeping cats out of sensitive habitat
Why is the Division of Boating & Ocean Recreation encouraging neuter/return practitioners to relocate cats to potentially much more sensitive habitats?
The policy change, expected to be authorized soon by Hawaii governor David Ige, who appointed Case to head the Department of Land & Natural Resources in April 2015, states that, “Any dog, cat, or other domestic pet, while being a stray within a small boat harbor, may be seized by officers and employees of the department, or by any other person authorized by law, and shall be disposed of as provided in chapter 183D-65, Hawaii Revised Statutes.”
Exemption for dogs
Reads Chapter 183D-65 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes:
“§183D-65 Posting; destruction of predators. (a) On any game management area, public hunting area, or forest reserve or other lands under the jurisdiction of the department, predators deemed harmful to wildlife by the department may be destroyed by any means deemed necessary by the department.”
One exemption is provided, for dogs:
“(b) Where the predators are dogs and the methods of destruction may endanger pets or hunting dogs, all major points of entrance into the area where the predators are to be destroyed shall be posted with signs indicating that a program of predator destruction in the area is in progress. Any predator may be destroyed in a posted area without claim or penalty whether or not the predator is the property of some person.”
Dogs involved in more documented attacks on wildlife
There is no protection for cats, or any other species.
Yet dogs, paradoxically, have been involved in markedly more documented incidents of mass destruction of native Hawaii wildlife. For example, reported Jessica Else of the Kauai Garden Island, serving Lihue, on August 15, 2017: “A stray dog killed 33 adult wedge-tailed shearwaters in a colony at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai’s Westside.”
Four orphaned wedge-tailed shearwater chicks and two un-hatched eggs were rescued and transferred to the care of an organization called Save Our Shearwaters, where they will remain until they fledge in November.
Four surviving adults “are in varying stages of health,” wrote Else. “All were badly injured in the attack and have neurological problems. One had to be euthanized because her fractures were so severe.”
“A very dangerous thing”
“They’re not going to go out tomorrow and start shooting cats, but they haven’t come up with a solution yet. Hopefully now they’ll talk to us a bit and we’ll try to find something that will work,” Humane Society of the U.S. feral cat expert Bryan Kortis told Namata. “I don’t know if [shooting cats] is their plan, but these rules give them that authority, and that’s a very dangerous thing,” Kortis added.
Agreed Alley Cat Allies representative John White, “We’re deeply concerned that they are using the most dramatic approach, that won’t be effective, and that the majority of the people in Hawaii oppose.”
The case against cats as an alleged threat to native wildlife in Hawaii, as in Australia, New Zealand, and other island habitats, originated more than a century ago with the simple observation by birders that cats kill birds, when they can, devoid of the context that cats are able to kill birds mostly when the birds are sick or injured, and therefore unable to fly.
Plantations killed the birds
“Since the arrival of Europeans to the Hawaiian Islands,” according to the American Bird Conservancy, “71 out of a total of 113 endemic bird species have gone extinct. Of the remaining 42, 32 are federally listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and ten of those have not been seen for up to 40 years.”
But the arrival of cats in Hawaii circa 1800 had little to do with the loss of birds, while the introduction of sugar cane plantations in 1802, coffee plantations in 1842, and pineapple plantations in 1898 had a great deal to do with it.
First, plantation agriculture devoured much bird habitat. Then, as crop monocultures became vulnerable to insects and diseases, agricultural spraying wrought further havoc on birds. Pesticides intoxicate birds so that more became vulnerable to cats and other predators, including––historically in Hawaii––humans who collected weakened birds to kill and eat. Pesticides also accumulate through birds’ food chain. DDT build-ups in particular caused birds to lay eggs with weakened shells and consequently a much lower rate of successful hatching.
Even after use of DDT and heptachlor, another pesticide harmful to birds, came to be tightly restricted on the U.S. mainland in the early 1970s, both remained in use on Hawaiian pineapple plantations for many more years.
Avian diseases accidentally imported in connection with cockfighting also had a part in the loss of native Hawaiian birds, but blaming cats and feral mongooses, introduced to Hawaii in 1883 to hunt rats on sugar cane plantations, has long been more politically convenient than challenging the practices of Hawaii’s biggest export industries.
As increased awareness of the effects of habitat loss, pesticide use, and disease on the Hawaiian bird population came to erode the arguments for cats and mongooses as the culprits, the now institutionally entrenched preoccupation with cats changed direction. In recent years cats have been blamed for toxoplasmosis infections found among Hawaiian monk seals and nene, a native Hawaiian goose.
Both Hawaiian monk seals and nene are endangered species, but the argument that either toxoplasmosis or cats has anything to do with their scarcity is fragile.
Infected nene recover
For example, a study published in 2016 by the Journal of Wildlife Diseases found that 21% of the nene tested on the island of Kauai had been exposed to toxoplasmosis. But the findings suggested not that toxoplasmosis killed nene, but rather that infected nene tend to recover.
Hawaiian monk seals, meanwhile, occur mostly around the most remote of the Hawaiian islands, far from any cats.
Cats were the first species in which Toxoplasma gondii was found to complete its entire life cycle, albeit that Toxoplasma gondii––like many other parasites––can spread from host to host and persist for years without completing a full life cycle. Toxoplasma gondii in humans spreads mainly through consumption of undercooked tainted meat.
Cats often acquire Toxoplasma gondii from each other, but may also be infected by eating rodents and birds, such as gulls or perhaps nene, who have themselves become infected.
Are anchovies the original hosts?
California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo researcher Gloeta Massie in 2008 reported having found through laboratory experimentation that about two-thirds of northern anchovies who were exposed to Toxoplasma gondii oocysts became infected.
As anchovies are among the most abundant and widely distributed prey of marine mammals, this suggested a far different avenue for Hawaiian monk seal infection––and suggested that even if cats are involved, cats themselves may have been infected by anchovies, first canned and marketed as cat food circa 1930.
The use of anchovies for cat food grew explosively with the rise of keeping pet cats from the mid-1950s on. The association of toxoplasmosis gondii with cats was identified in the early 1960s.
Monk seal population highest in 30 years
Observed Vox Felina blogger Peter Wolf of the alleged cat connection to monk seal endangerment, in 2016, “The Toxoplasma gondii parasite, sometimes spread via cat feces, has claimed eight monk seals over the past 15 years. Those eight deaths represent just 4.4 percent of the 183 seals necropsied by researchers over that period. (The parasite was suspected in another two deaths.)”
Meanwhile, Wolf continued, “The population of monk seals is actually increasing. In the sparsely populated Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where their largest population is found,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lead scientist for monk seal recovery Charles Littman reported what he called, “The highest levels that we’ve seen in decades, and in some places, the highest levels in survival that we’ve seen in 30 years.”
The Nature Conservancy
The Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources move to expand where cats may be killed “by any means deemed necessary,” including by shooting them, might only be hiding behind purported complaints about cats from boaters. The real source of antipathy toward cats may reside in department chair Suzanne Case’s previous 28-year career with The Nature Conservancy, including as executive director of Nature Conservancy programs in Hawaii from 2001-2015.
Founded in 1951 by ornithologist Richard Pough (1904-2003), who had from 1936 to 1948 worked for the National Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy has from inception sought to extirpate all “non-native” species, especially cats, from anywhere deemed wildlife habitat. Pough, perhaps even before joining the National Audubon Society, appears to have become imbued early in life with the cat hatred espoused by 19th and early 20th century Massachusetts state ornithologist Edward Howe Forbush.
The 1916 Forbush tract The Domestic Cat: Bird Killer, Mouser & Destroyer of Wild Life; Means of Utilizing and Controlling It, furnished the quasi-scientific basis for more than half a century of concerted efforts by hunters and birders to add cats to state lists of legally hunted species, and continues to be the unacknowledged template for the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, and American Bird Conservancy policies of opposition to neuter/return feral cat control.
While Case brought to the Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources considerable mainstream environmental advocacy credentials, Cox brings to his case against Case’s cat policy considerable credentials of his own.
Cox currently hosts the two-hour Carroll Cox Show, an environmental news and discussion forum broadcast Sunday mornings by the 47-year-old Hawaiian talk radio powerhouse KWAI 1080 AM.
Also a longtime columnist for Hawaii Fishing News, Cox was for about 10 years a wildlife law enforcement officer for the California Department of Fish & Game. For another 10 years Cox was a special investigator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage
In that capacity, Cox in December 1994 received the fifth annual Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage from the Shafeek Nader Foundation, formed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader in memory of his father.
Explains the award certificate, “In 1990, Carroll Cox was assigned to the Pacific Basin including Hawaii, home to nearly 40% of U.S. endangered species. He forced a 90-day shutdown of the game fish industry for killing species which got tangled in the long fishing lines, including whales, monk seals, sea lions, albatrosses, sea turtles, and sharks.
“Failing all administrative remedies,” the certificate continues, “he appealed to the public through the media, and emerged with an enforcement victory. His investigations revealed that high officials in the U.S. Trust Territory of Palau were smuggling endangered species products from the Philippines to Palau and, contrary to U.S. law, they were also shipping sea turtles to Japan. His finding that most of the illegal sea turtle trade originated in Palau saved President Bush, who was set to sanction Japan for such trading, from a major embarrassment.”
Cox started his own organization, EnviroWatch, in 1996.
EnviroWatch over the past 20 years has contributed undercover investigative work and photography to many of the most prominent environmental organizations worldwide, on subjects including illegal shark fishing and other types of maritime poaching, wildlife trafficking, and conservation of native Hawaiian birds, including the nene and several other rare species that Cox accurately predicted were further jeopardized by misguided public policies.
Cox in November 2016 expressed “disbelief that the Hawaiian Humane Society and the Honolulu Police Department routinely are not assigning a high level of importance to the cruel and inhumane killing of cats at Sand Island Park here on the Island of Oahu,” apparently by individuals who were (and perhaps still are) recreationally setting pit bulls on them.
One possible explanation
“Sand Island Park is owned and operated by the Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources,” Cox pointed out them. “Suzanne Case is the chairperson. The Department of Land & Natural Resources has deputized law enforcement officers within the agency to investigate and prosecute violators. Why hasn’t Case assigned officers to investigate the killing of cats at Sand Island Park? We spoke with a number of Department of Land & Natural Resources officers and they had not been informed of the killings of cats at Sand Island Park.
“Here is one possible explanation,” Cox offered. “For the past year or longer, an aggressive campaign led by the Department of Land & Natural Resources to trap and kill cats is underway. Why would Department of Land & Natural Resources officers investigate and prosecute the responsible parties for the cruel and inhumane killing of the cats when the Department of Land & Natural Resources itself wishes to kill the cats?”
“Based on the Department of Land & Natural Resources ‘s past,” Cox says today, “and these and past occurrences, we don’t believe Case and her representatives or agents will rely on humane measures or work with the public or concerned citizens to manage the illegally abandoned cats.”