Feral Cats Caught On Camera Killing Endangered Seabirds

LIHUE – 26th June 2014 -Scientists reported today that feral cats are killing endangered seabirds in large numbers even in the most remote and rugged rainforests of the mountains of Kaua‘i.

Cameras placed on endangered seabird burrows on Kaua‘i this season have filmed feral cats entering burrows and killing breeding birds, according to the Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project (KESRP). Videos released on its website and Facebook page shows cats pulling a Newell’s Shearwater and a Hawaiian Petrel out of their respective burrows and killing them.  The bodies were later recovered by field workers.

“This is yet more evidence of the serious conservation impact that feral cats are having on our endangered wildlife,” said Dr André Raine, coordinator of KESRP.  “Year after year, we are finding the bodies of dead seabirds killed by cats in even our most remote and isolated colonies.”

In one of the videos, a cat enters a rare Newell’s Shearwater burrow at a site within the Hono o Na Pali Natural Area Reserve.  It is then seen struggling about in the burrow and then emerging with the shearwater in its mouth before killing it and eating parts of it off camera.  The remains of the bird were recovered a few days later by KESRP staff.  The bird was one of a pair of the very rare Newell’s Shearwaters that had successfully fledged a chick last year.

The KESRP Team has been conducting field research on the endangered birds to better understand the factors that are causing these endangered species to be declining.  The studies are revealing high rates of nest failure and numerous instances where the birds have been killed by predators at the nest.

“The cameras are showing that cats are regularly visiting seabird burrows in all of our monitored colonies,” continued Dr. Raine.  “Last year, we had one cat visit nine burrows in a single day – killing a Hawaiian Petrel chick in the process.  If one considers that we are only monitoring a small number of burrows with cameras in a small number of areas, then the true impact of feral cats must be very significant indeed. These cats are not house pets. They are predators capable of wiping out entire colonies of our native and endemic seabirds,” he said.

This season, KESRP has already recorded 25 instances on camera of feral cats trying to enter breeding bird burrows, including the two that resulted in the birds inside being killed.  The remains of nine endangered seabirds killed by cats have also been discovered at multiple remote sites around the island so far this season.

Like many other States and counties throughout the country, Hawai‘i’s communities are seeking solutions to address problems with large numbers of feral cats in public and residential areas.  In an effort to find solutions, the Kaua‘i County Council created the Feral Cat Task Force. It is expected to present its findings to the county in early July.

“Feral cats are a growing problem in our urban and residential areas, but these findings show that these predators have spread even into the most remote and important wildlife habitats,” said William J. Aila, Jr., Chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Aila explained that concerned citizens can help protect native seabirds by getting their pet cats spayed or neutered, and keeping them indoors.  “It’s particularly important that people avoid feeding stray and feral cats and contact their local humane society for assistance. Ultimately there should be no feral cats roaming outside – it’s unsafe for the cats, bad for their health, and it’s killing our endangered wildlife,” he concluded. Aila also said that DLNR works with the Humane Society of the U.S. to identify solutions to issues related to the impacts of feral cats on indigenous wildlife.

“The Humane Society of the United States cares equally about the welfare of birds and cats and is committed to continuing to work with the county, state and others to reduce human, cat and wildlife conflict. To further protect these fragile nesting bird species, residents are asked to never abandon an unwanted animal, or to allow their dogs, who may also harm nesting birds, to roam freely off their property,” said Inga Gibson, Hawaii State Director.

The Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Team is a collaboration of the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the University of Hawai‘i’s Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit.  Their mission is to conduct research to better understand threats to endangered seabirds and find solutions that can be implemented to protect those species.