June 24, 2013 Edition

In the cat-bird debate

Biologist, shelter at odds over feral cat sterilization
BY JT LEONARD Times Record Staff


A FERAL, or “community,” cat perches on an out building at the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick. There are several colonies of feral cats in Brunswick that, over several generations, have become wild, shelter officials say. 
JT LEONARD / THE TIMES RECORD A FERAL, or “community,” cat perches on an out building at the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick. There are several colonies of feral cats in Brunswick that, over several generations, have become wild, shelter officials say. JT LEONARD / THE TIMES RECORD BRUNSWICK

Fearing that songbird populations will be decimated, a Bowdoin College biology professor has taken exception to a Coastal Humane Society plan to manage feral cat populations.

The Brunswick-based shelter is using a $10,000 Maine Community Foundation grant to trap wild cats, spay or neuter them, then release them.

Without the ability to reproduce, feral populations eventually will die out, said Lisa Smith, the shelter’s community relations manager.

Although the yearlong program “is just getting started,” Smith said she expects staff will sterilize 50 to 100 cats this year.

Local animal control officers help locate and trap the feral colonies.

“All 14 towns (served by CHS) have at least one feral colony, but my unofficial, unscientific estimate is that are as many as 40 or 50,” Smith said.

“For every one female you spay, you’re preventing dozens of future kittens. Through attrition we’ll manage the population to zero.”

About 10 rounds of trapping and spaying have already been done using the grant funds.

Nat Wheelwright, a Bowdoin College conservation biologist, opposes the plan as “an ecologically ill-advised scheme.”

In a June 18 letter to shelter staffers, Wheelwright cites a U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife study that estimates cats kill as many as 1 billion wild birds every year.

“The majority of those deaths are caused by feral (rather than domesticated) cats,” Wheelwright states in the letter. “A conservative estimate is that a single feral cat anually kills 25 to 50 birds.”

Wheelwright said he favors educating the public about keeping cats out of the wild in the first place.

Wheelwright told The Times Record in an email he doesn’t believe the sterilization plan addresses “the immediate issue of the wholesale killing of birds and other animals.”

“It’s a legitimate concern,” Smith said of Wheelwright’s letter and opposition. “Cats definitely are making an impact on small animals and birds. It’s just a question of how do we solve the problem? I think we’re both going at the same problem, just in different ways.”

2013-06-24 / Front Page

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