Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Cape May's Feral Cats (Again)

Last night the Cape May City Council approved a proposal for relocating feral cats to colonies that are at least 1,000 yards from its beaches. Some of these colonies will be fenced. The city will also have to implement a cat registration program so that all cats in the city - feral or not - have unique identification tags. This ought to include RFID tags for the free-roaming cats to establish their movements and range; it would settle the question of which cats are preying on beach-nesting birds.

The article refers to this as a "compromise." Since a 1,000-foot buffer was the city's original proposal for preventing cat predation on the beaches, it is not clear what the compromise was. It appears to me that federal and state officials backed down in the face of opposition from the city.

Part of the reason for that opposition was that city officials were subject to a well-organized national campaign against taking stronger measures. Groups like Alley Cat Allies mounted petition drives against a previous proposal. Cape May's mayor reported receiving 600 emails in a single day from cat supporters, and 40 protesters attended last night's council meeting. No similar effort existed on behalf of endangered birds.

Piping plovers and other birds that nest on beaches are extremely vulnerable to predation and other forms of harassment. Since their populations are so small, even a few nest failures have a major impact on the species. Feral cats have been implicated in piping plover nest failures (pdf) all along the East Coast, including around Cape May. Groups like Alley Cat Allies promote TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) as a cure for this problem, but TNR is only somewhat effective (pdf) as a population check, and feral cat colony management does nothing to prevent predation on wild birds. Removing cats from beaches and restricting feral cat colonies may seem distasteful, especially if (like me) you like cats. Unfortunately these measures are necessary when endangered species are involved.