Hawaii Is Culling Feral Cats — To Save Its Endangered Birds

Animal advocates in Hawaii are pitted against each other: split between protecting the endangered birds and protecting the feral cats.
​Feral cats are roaming Hawaii —and bird lovers aren't happy about it.
Feral cats are roaming Hawaii —and bird lovers aren't happy about it. (AP Photo / Lucy Pemoni)

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Yet another (cat)strophe is coming to head in Hawaii. There are one too many million feral cats freely roaming in what’s considered the ‘bird extinction capital of the world’, where they hunt for survival—and sport.

Containing their predatory power has pitted animal advocates against each other: split between protecting the endangered birds and protecting the feral cats. And much to the dismay of cat advocates, many conservationists insist on an unpopular but necessary solution: removing cats from the landscape. And while every animal culling faces pushback, it gets even more messy when it involves a favorite pet.


“I think part of the problem is that people really identify with cats because they think of cats as their pets,” bird expert Andre Raine told VICE News. “but it's hard for them to identify with the birds.”

This isn’t just a Hawaii problem. Cats terrorize birds all over the world. It’s estimated they kill around 2.4 billion birds in the U.S. each year. But the stakes are higher in Hawaii where there are roughly 2 million cats. And birds that haven’t evolved a defense against these human-introduced threats. Since humans arrived, 95 of Hawaii’s 142 endemic bird species have already disappeared. 

To reduce the cat population, cat advocates have upheld a technique called ‘Trap, Neuter, and Release’ or TNR. It’s exactly what it sounds like: they feed a colony of feral cats, trap them usually late at night, sterilize them with a vet, and then return them where they came from. 

Not only do wildlife experts argue that TNR doesn’t actually lead to a decrease in colony size, but that it doesn’t solve the issue of outdoor cats. So long as they are outside, they could be preying on birds. 

Which is why conservationists insist on predator control strategies like euthanasia to solve the problem of both overpopulation and cats on the landscape. Predator control specialists like Alex Dutcher with Hallux Ecosystem Restoration will focus on trapping the cats in remote parts of the mountain, where the cats are forced to hunt for survival.


“What does make it easier is knowing that we are euthanizing them humanely and quickly and ending their short and really hard lives and saving birds in the process,” Dutcher told VICE News.

And for native birds like Newell’s shearwaters and Hawaiian Petrels, Kaua’i is the last stronghold. It goes beyond saving a species, but preserving a vital part of native hawaiian culture that’s been repeatedly colonized by invasives including the cat.

“It's interesting when people think we need to pick a side on the cats, you know, predation versus pets. And you don't have to,” Nicole Schafer Crane of The Kauai Human Society told VICE News.”It's us trying to work together to come up with a solution.”

And there is one solution that appeals to both cat lovers and bird protectors: leashes. Cats can go outside, take a walk like a dog, and not potentially tear through a vulnerable treat.