The issue of trapping and relocating feral/free-roaming cats from properties surrounding Zoo Miami has ignited a firestorm of emotions, leading to the dissemination of incorrect information while omitting important facts.
First and foremost, the cats in question are roaming federally protected endangered Pine Rockland habitat, which is against the law. To comply with the law, they must be removed. The cats pose a threat to the habitat and the protected species of animals that live within it. Whether it be the spread of disease and parasites or the actual predation of the native animals living there, free-roaming cats are responsible for millions — some reputable organizations such as the Smithsonian and the National Wildlife Federation estimate billions — of native animal deaths each year in this country alone.
Detractors will say that these cats are being fed by people and therefore have no reason to hunt for other food. They will add that the only way to prove that cats are eating native wildlife is to examine their stomach contents
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These must be individuals who have not seen a cat catch a bird or other animal and tortuously “play” with it until it no longer moves because it is dead and then just leave it. The fact is that domestic cats don’t always kill to eat — they kill because it is their instinct to do so.
It has also been incorrectly stated that Zoo Miami — and I — are trapping these cats and that we are then killing them. The truth is that no one at Zoo Miami is trapping the cats. That is being done by parks, recreation, and open spaces personnel at Larry and Penny Thompson Park, where the majority of these cats reside.
What Zoo Miami is doing is providing veterinary screening of the trapped cats to ensure that they are not carrying feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Those are untreatable diseases, and any cats that test positive for them are humanely euthanized. All remaining healthy cats are then picked up by the Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department to be re-homed either through adoption or other rescue facilities. Zoo Miami is playing no role in that process.
Of the first 19 cats that were trapped, two tested positive for FIV and were euthanized. The remaining 17 went to Animal Services; four were available for adoption at local PetSmart Centers, nine went to rescue organizations, two were adopted by private individuals, one is available for adoption at Animal Services, and one is in foster care. There will be no other trapping taking place until these first 17 cats are successfully re-homed.
Among other zoonotic diseases — those that can be passed between animals and humans — cats can carry toxoplasmosis. Though toxoplasmosis can be found in substances other than cat feces, it can only develop in cat feces. Cats are the only definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii and therefore, serve as the main reservoir. Only cats shed oocysts of this parasite in their feces.
Toxoplasmosis has already proven fatal to several animals at Zoo Miami. Therefore we must eliminate all possible vectors of the disease — which include domestic cats, as they have been seen using the substrate in zoo animal holding areas as a litter box. Removing this threat is also a part of our required animal-wellness protocol as it relates to being inspected and licensed by the USDA.
It has been said that Zoo Miami ignored a recommendation to electrify the fence surrounding the property to create a barrier that would prevent the cats from entering. The reality is that we listened closely and tried to convey to the groups making the recommendation that it was impractical to try to electrify a fence surrounding a 740-acre piece of property and that such a fence would not guarantee against cats breaching it considering small gaps necessary for gates, etc. In addition, such an electrified fence could have a negative impact on the native wildlife that belongs there.
The reality is that all of us want the same thing — for these cats to be successfully re-homed where they don’t pose a threat to other wildlife or endangered habitats. The sad fact is the cats are paying the price for the real villains in this situation — the irresponsible and thoughtless individuals who turn their pets out into the street. There, they often face cruel consequences that lead to the horrible situations that we face today: the overpopulation of unwanted animals that ultimately suffer because of ignorance and neglect.
Ron Magill is Zoo Miami communications director.