The feral cat population on San Nicolas Island has been slated for extermination by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in an attempt to maintain an ecological balance on the island.
San Nicolas is a remote, Navy-owned island about 60 miles off the coast of Ventura. According to an assessment by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the cats pose a threat to the island’s ecosystem – a result of the cats preying on native birds and their young, as well as on deer mice, which serve as the primary food source for the endangered Channel Island Fox. The planned removal of the cats came mostly in response to dwindling seabird populations.
Jane Hendron, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife office in Carlsbad, said that the feral cats were initially brought to the island as pets, but wandered off and multiplied. There are now an estimated 100 to 200 feral cats on San Nicholas.
The FWS released the Final Environmental Assessment for the San Nicholas Island Seabird Restoration a week ago. The report determined that the non-native cats currently pose a threat to several endangered species on the island. In order to correct the problem the cats will be caught using large traps as well as tracking dogs.
“Specially trained dogs will be used to track the scent of the feral cats in order to find their dens,” Hendron said. “However, the dogs will never come in contact with the cats.”
Although the complete removal of the cats may appear to be a drastic measure, Hendron said it is imperative that the FWS remove every cat from the island, or the problem will just reoccur in the future.
“I myself have three cats,” Hendron said. “Sometimes difficult decisions must be made.”
Once the cats are trapped, many will be euthanized on the spot. However, some of the kittens will be taken out and put up for adoption, and some of the healthy cats will be taken by the humane society.
“In collaboration with the Humane Society of the United States, some adult cats will be placed in secure facilities on the condition that they remain indoors for the remainder of their lives,” Hendron said.
According to Hendron, the feral cat problem is not unique to the San Nicholas Island. She said that many ecosystems across the country have been damaged and changed by hunting cats. Although the FWS has attempted to remove cats from San Nicholas in the past, cats that were not trapped or killed reproduced and the problem returned.