Hawaii has a serious feral cat problem. The numbers vary, but it’s safe to say that there are more feral cats on the islands than the state can handle. Some estimates indicate that more than 300,000 feral cats are living on the island of Oahu alone1. Feral cats would not be such an issue if they didn’t cause environmental havoc throughout the islands, but unfortunately, they do. In fact, feral cats are considered an invasive species in the state. Here’s everything else that you need to know about Hawaii’s feral cat problem.
Why Feral Cats Are Such a Problem in Hawaii
The reason feral cats are such a problem is that they prey on native birds and insects, which are crucial for the environment. The birds help fertilize plants, flowers, and food crops, and the insects help keep the soil in good condition. Even feral cats that have a regular food source tend to kill native wildlife simply due to their instincts. They feast on native birds, including those that are listed as endangered, such as the A’o and the Palila. These cats also go after endangered reptiles and mammals.
Thirty-three species have become extinct by becoming victims of the feral cat population throughout Hawaii. Furthermore, feral cats tend to harbor a parasite called toxoplasma that is excreted in their feces. The parasite can be deadly. The infected feces travel into the ocean and can infect water animals, like monk seals. It’s also possible for humans to contract the parasite and develop toxoplasmosis!
What’s Being Done to Curb the Feral Cat Population
There was a bill on the table in Hawaii that was to fund the Department of Land and Natural Resources to do an official headcount of feral cats and then cull them with poisoning techniques. The bill was shut down in the legislature in early 2022 and will not move forward — at least for now. Currently, the state relies on TNR, which stands for “trap, neuter, release.” The idea is to trap feral cats, take them to a clinic for sterilization, and then return them to where they were trapped to live out their lives.
This technique does nothing to save endangered prey animals in Hawaii, but it is thought to help decrease the feral cat population as time goes on and therefore, eventually decrease the degree to which endangered animals are being killed. Local organizations manage major campaigns throughout the year aimed at encouraging pet owners to spay and neuter their cats. Other than that, there isn’t much being done about the problem.
Chances are that you’ll run across a few feral cats while spending time in Hawaii. They tend to show up in many places where you wouldn’t expect to find a cat, like in restaurants. It’s never a good idea to feed or interact with a feral cat in Hawaii, as it only helps fuel reproduction and will make the cat want to stick around in locations where they shouldn’t.
Featured Image Credit: museumsmaus, Pixabay