A month-long investigation has led to animal cruelty charges against a Ph.D who specializes in bird conservation at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. after caretakers of a feral cat colony found a connection between the woman and rat poison in the cats’ food.
When caretakers of a feral cat colony in Columbia Heights noticed an unusual material in the cats’ food bowls, they took it to the Washington Humane Society to be analyzed. The group was very surprised to learn the substance was rat poison and they were even more surprised to learn it traced back to Nico Dauphine, a postdoctoral fellow with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo.
ABC News reported the Humane Society conducted a month-long investigation “monitoring video surveillance and matching card swipes in and out of an apartment complex near the scene of the alleged crime.”
After viewing the evidence, which apparently shows Dauphine setting out dishes of food for the cats, the Humane Society obtained a warrant for her arrest. But Dauphine turned herself in and has denied the charges against her.
Her lawyer said, “Her whole life is devoted to the care and welfare of animals.”
While this may be true regarding birds, her dislike for feral cats has popped up at least two other times in her career. In 2009 she delivered an online lecture entitled, “Apocalypse Meow: Free-ranging Cats and the Destruction of American Wildlife,” which discussed how feral cats kill billions of animals in the U.S. each year.
And in 2007 when Dauphine was a student, she wrote to the New York Times in response to a story about a cat that was killed after hunting and an endangered bird.
Here’s an excerpt of what she wrote to the magazine as reported by TBD, “Do we call it a war when the slaughter is almost exclusively one-sided? The birds are simply trying to survive in the face of formidable odds.”
One of Dauphine’s current projects for the National Zoo involves strapping small cameras to the backs of outdoor housecats to see how they “affect wild bird populations.”
At this time the National Zoo is standing behind its employee, stating that her research does not “jeopardize wildlife.” However, zoo officials say they will terminate Dauphine’s employment if she is found guilty.
Dauphine faces up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.
The Humane Society said there is no way of knowing how many cats ate the poisoned food and died. Perhaps more serious charges can be pressed if the agency learns more about this information.
Alley Cat Allies, a national organization that advocates for stray and feral cats applauded Washington D.C. authorities for upholding anti-cruelty laws for feral cats.
“This troubling story underlines the importance of what we have been doing for over 20 years,” said Alley Cat Allies president Becky Robinson. “Alley Cat Allies supports humane and effective policies that take into account the best interests of all animals. Intentionally killing cats is illegal and cruel. Criminal charges in this case are appropriate and necessary.”
“Dauphine has published numerous papers scapegoating cats for the loss of bird species, using unreliable data and misrepresenting research to condemn cats.”
Dauphine received her Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, a Master of Science degree from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University. She also served in the Peace Corps.
In the weeks ahead it will be interesting to see if this case heads in the direction of a mistaken identity or a misguided woman who thought she was protecting a species of animal.
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