Cat colonies a threat to birds

Some 250 pairs of snowy plovers breed each year on the beaches of Florida’s Panhandle.

Some 250 pairs of snowy plovers breed each year on the beaches of Florida’s Panhandle.

RAYA PRUNER | Special to the Times
Published: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 09:22 AM.

A group of animal lovers wants to establish cat colonies on St. George Island but biologists and some island residents say the island is no place for feral cats.

Helen Gore and Cathy Buell, cofounders of St. George Island Cat Allies together with June Crawford of Aiken , South Carolina , have rescued a group of cats from an island housing development and want to establish colonies of neutered cats on the island.

They are working to establish a trap, neuter and release program (TNR) to return cats to live outdoors. TNR is the method of feral cat control endorsed by Alley Cat Allies (ACA), a national organization to protect and stabilize feral cat populations.

“TNR involves humanely trapping stray and feral cats and having them vaccinated and spayed/neutered before returning them to their outdoor home,” reads the ACA website. “It is the only effective method of stabilizing outdoor cat colonies. Because of TNR, the birth of new kittens in the colony slows down and eventually ends when all the cats are spayed or neutered. In addition, socialized cats and kittens are spayed/neutered and then often put up for adoption, causing an immediate reduction in the population size.”

Susan Gillum, a retired research ecologist who spends half the year in the St. George Island Plantation, said a TNR program will interfere with the fragile ecosystem of the barrier island.

Gillum, who worked for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and is now a private environmental consultant, said maintaining feral cat colonies on the island is a bad idea from both environmental and public health perspectives. She said cats are carriers of human diseases including rabies and toxoplasmosis.

Veterinarian Hobson Fulmer, of the Apalachicola Bay Animal Clinic, said rabies in cats and dogs is virtually unheard of in Franklin County although there have been cases in adjacent counties.

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