Cat Poop Is Dangerous for Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals

Hawaiian monk seals, one of the most endangered marine animals in the world, may become extinct — and feral cats are inadvertently to blame.

Poop from the hundreds of thousands of stray cats that live in Hawaii are spreading toxoplasmosis, a disease that’s deadly to the seals. At least eight monk seals have died from the disease since 2001, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). To save the last 1,300 or so monk seals remaining on Earth, NOAA researchers have a proposal: Kill all the feral cats.

This solution has, understandably, angered animal lovers, and poses an ethical quandary: Is it right to destroy one species in order to save another?

Feral Cats vs. ‘Dogs Running in the Rough Sea’

Centuries ago, Hawaiian monk seals were called ilioholoikauaua (“dog running in the rough sea”). They do have big, puppy dog eyes, but are about 7 feet long and can weigh up to 600 pounds. Along with the hoary bat, the monk seal is the only animal native to Hawaii. All the other animals in the state, including dogs, cats, deer, goats and sheep, are invasive, Angela Amlin, NOAA’s acting Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator, told the Associated Press.

Feral cats and Hawaiian monk seals share something in common: bad reputations. The cats are responsible for the deaths of up to 4 billion birds and 22.3 billion mammals every year in the United States. The monk seals are viewed as competitors by fishermen, who blame them for stealing their catches. Within six months in 2012, four monk seals were killed by humans, according to NBC News (of course, there are no plans to exterminate the two-legged destroyers of this endangered species).

As many as 400,000 feral cats live on the island of Maui, and 300,000 on Oahu. Nearly 40 percent of 67 feral cats captured on the island of Hawaii tested positive for toxoplasmosis.

Only felines can shed Toxoplasma gondii eggs, which enter their digestive tract through prey that’s infected. (Although it rarely affects humans, toxoplasmosis is the reason why pregnant women are advised not to handle cat litter.) The eggs multiply in cats’ intestines and are excreted in their poop, which is later washed into the ocean via runoff and sewage. There it accumulates in invertebrates that live on the ocean floor. The eggs can survive for up to two years, infecting warm-blooded animals in the process.

Toxoplasmosis is also blamed for the extinction of the Hawaiian crow in the wild.

Should One Species Be Killed to Save Another?

Although it’s more expensive than euthanization and takes more time to accomplish, a much more humane and less drastic way to protect Hawaiian monk seals is to reduce the number of feral cats by trapping and then spaying or neutering them.

In fact, the University of Hawaii started a feral cat management program on its Honolulu campus in 2011 that has helped decrease the cat population on Oahu. Along with trapping and neutering or spaying the cats, the program also has authorized feeders who are trained how to properly dispose of the cat poop.

It’s not true that people care more about the feral cats than an endangered species, as Alicia Maluafiti, board president of the Oahu-based animal welfare group Poi Dogs and Popoki, told the Associated Press.

“What we just don’t advocate is the wholesale killing, the extermination, of one species” for another, she said.

Unfortunately, Australia plans to kill 2 million feral cats by 2020 to save native species. Hopefully Hawaii won’t follow in its footsteps and will instead save its monk seals as well as feral cats. A positive sign is that a bill that would have made the feeding, watering and tending of feral animals on public lands illegal was deferred by the Hawaii state legislature earlier this year.

Photo credit: NOAA

90 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Robert N.
Rob Chloe Sam Nabout a year ago

Humans are to blame for this, Not the cats.

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

See? Again, humans at fault: you let those cats to reproduce instead of neutering/spaying them!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Patricia H.
Patricia Harrisabout a year ago

Once again, I have to agree with Frances Bell! Cats don't go anywhere near the water, let alone poop in it. It has to be the cat owners flushing their cat's feces that's the problem, not the cat itself.

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Joanne p.
Joanne pabout a year ago

Ty

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