Feral Cat Resolution on Hold in Hawai'i's Kaua'i County

Contact: Robert Johns, 202-234-7181 ext.210,

Hawaiian Petrel by Jim Denny
Hawaiian Petrel by Jim Denny

(Washington, D.C., June 28, 2011) Advocates for Hawai'i's imperiled native birds are applauding a decision by the Kaua'i County Council to set aside a resolution that would have endorsed a feral cat management program and resulted in further bird mortality in a state already known as the bird extinction capital of the world.

A council committee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of a “Trap, Neuter, and Release” feral cat control program on Kaua‘i, but the full County Council voted unanimously not to act on the resolution.

Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) programs capture feral cats, neuter them, and then return them to the wild. Such programs were conceived as a way to reduce feral cat numbers, but have proven ineffective in numerous studies. The colonies act as dumping grounds for unwanted pets, are often poorly managed, and frequently are unsuccessful in capturing sufficient cats to alleviate the colony’s impact.


“Feral cats are an invasive species that wreaks deadly havoc on threatened and endangered native species. Putting a captured feral cat back in the wild serves as a death sentence for a host of wildlife, including birds. There is no question that a house cat’s place is in the home, not in the wild. In addition, returning a captured feral cat to the wild is also very bad for the cat – putting it at far greater risk of disease, attack from other wild animals, and poisoning, dramatically shortening its life expectancy,” said George Wallace, Vice President for Oceans and Islands at American Bird Conversancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization.

“Our efforts are focused on those without voices in this issue, the ‘a’o (Newell’s Shearwater) and the ‘ua’u (Hawaiian Petrel); the Nene and the Hawaiian monk seal. Fisherfolk and other traditional practitioners are concerned that we are seeing the very last of some of these species. The populations of these birds are so small that many on Kaua’i, including Hui Ho’omalu I ka ‘Ᾱina, are working hard to save the last few. To support any effort to return predators to their habitat is, in my mind, criminal,” said Makaala Kaaumoana, Vice-Chair of Hui Ho’omalu I ka ‘Ᾱina, a community-based organization founded by Hawaiian cultural practitioners in 1983 to restore, and preserve Kauai’s natural and cultural resources. Members of the Hui include native Hawaiian practitioners, community leaders, educators, and other Kauai residents who are actively involved in efforts to protect Kauai’s biological and cultural treasures, including the Newell’s Shearwater and Hawaiian Petrel for future generations.

ABC has been active on the feral cat issue in the state, and supported the Hawaiian organization Hui Ho‘omalu i ka ‘Ᾱina in providing expert testimony on the topic at a June Council hearing.

“As beautiful as Hawai‘i is, the fact remains that Hawaiian native birds have been under siege like no other birds in the world. There were once 113 bird species that lived only in Hawai‘i; seventy-one are now extinct. The islands still boast an astounding 43 endemic (birds that only reside only in one area) bird species, but 33 of these (75%) are now federally endangered. Several are on the brink of extinction, and ten have not been seen in years,” Wallace said.

“Many groups, government agencies, and elected officials are doing what they can to turn this shockingly bad environmental situation around, and headway is being made. So with the problems that have existed and the efforts now underway, a strategy that might benefit Hawai‘i’s most dangerous bird predator is unconscionable,” Wallace said.


Further complicating matters is that fact that the County of Kauai‘i is in the process of applying for federal and state incidental take permits to allow incidental killing of some Newell’s Shearwaters and Hawaiian Petrels attracted by lights at county facilities. Both species are listed under the Endangered Species Act. County officials are concerned that a program that maintains feral cats in the wild will result in the deaths of more endangered birds, and could affect the cost of the federal take permit, already likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The county is currently developing a habitat conservation plan as part of the permit process, which will also require the development of a predator control program.

“Putting a captured predator back out into the wild to kill again would seem to be contrary to the notion of predator control,” Wallace said.

State and federal land managers also testified that a TNR program could undermine efforts underway to recover endangered seabirds and waterbirds.

As part of its decision to not act on the resolution, the county is considering a task force or advisory committee that will convene a series of workshops to further investigate the issue of feral cat management on Kaua‘i.