A Feral Cat Problem in Hawaii?
Visitors to Hawaii are usually unaware that there is a serious cat overpopulation problem in our islands. Not for long, though. Soon after arrival many of these visitors begin noticing the strays. The cats are every place they look – in the alleys, by the hotels, near the restaurants, at the beach, in the parks, around the school grounds. Literally everywhere.
And the visitors are surprised by the number of cats they see... not just one or two, but often a hundred or more cats at one location! Sadly, inundated by so many cats, and not enough homes, 87% of all cats turned in to the Humane Society are euthanized. This amounts to approximately 13,000 cats a year. Why and how did this happen to our island paradise?
Great weather - year around! Unlike some other locations where the cold weather in winter kills weaker animals and breeding is but a short season, Hawaii’s climate encourages a year ‘round breeding. Cats are very prolific. They can have 3 litters of 3 to 6 kittens each per year! Starting at just 4 months of age, a female cat (still a kitten herself) can have her first litter.
No predators. There are NO natural predators that kill some of the population. Hawaii has no coyotes, large birds of prey, snakes, or other such predators that keep the numbers down in other locations around the world. This means that the number of strays can freely expand unchecked if preventive measures are not taken.
Abandonment by a transient population. Hawaii has a very large transient population. Today’s mobile lifestyle often encourages abandonment of animals. Students leave their pets behind, military leave pets behind. Moving from island to island, even the local population will abandon their pets when they find that taking them is inconvenient.
Laws against abandonment ignored. Laws against abandonment cannot easily be enforced. Unfortunately, like most everywhere, this is a fact!
What is being done about this fact? Recently, the cat overpopulation problem has been addressed in several innovative, non-lethal ways. In 1995, a cat protection law went into effect for the island of Oahu.
The law stipulates that all cats allowed to roam outside and who are 6 months of age or older, by law must now be sterilized and wear identification (either microchip, eartag, or collar) with owner’s name and address.
TNR programs are making a real difference. However, the real difference has emerged from a joint program by Hawaii Cat Foundation’s Trap/Neuter/Return program and the Hawaiian Humane Society’s spay/neuter program for feral cats.
The TNR program in Hawaii was begun in 1993. Dr. Arleene Skillman, D.V.M., was the first veterinarian to hold weekend free spay/neuter clinics. Dr. Skillman recognized the importance of spaying and neutering free roaming cats and knew it could humanely make a difference in the feral population. Soon, volunteers organized the Hawaii Cat Foundation to address the call for trapping volunteers. Then, this progressive idea of spaying/neutering cats and returning them to the environment was adopted by the Hawaiian Humane Society. The HHS expanded the program into a daily spay/neuter schedule.
Due to both the Humane Society’s progressive program which spay/neuters ferals for free and the tireless work by HCF volunteers in trapping more than 5,000 cats to date, it is certain that THOUSANDS of litters of unwanted cats will not be born in the future. As a positive and humane addition, cats that have been spayed/neutered and returned to their environment are allowed to live.
However, there is still a long way to go. There are so many more feral cats to spay or neuter. Nevertheless - we are making a difference.
The humane and effective result is fewer feral cats through natural attrition.