National Zoo Researcher Charged With Poisoning Feral Cats

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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William C
William C11 months ago

Thanks for caring.

W. C
W. C11 months ago

Thank you for the information.

Jacqueline Lavanchy

Stupid woman, she should know that in order to protect birds, it is far better to neuter feral cats so they aren't so many around. She should work together with Alley Cat Allies instead of killing cruelly cats that are not responsible for human stupidity.

Darla Taylor
Past Member 6 years ago

Poisoning a group of cats is misguided and cruel. I love both birds and cats. There are several abandoned cats where I live and they do not kill the birds around here.

Marcie JNP
Marcie Perskin6 years ago

Reading this article , being both a Cat and Bird lover, and feed and care for Feral Cats, I know that we people who feed ferals are helping the Bird population as well. Yes its true ferals do kill birds which I abhor but my ferals are too well fed to kill for food. Most birds are killed by young cats , after about 2 they become disinterested. Whats more its usually house cats let out between 6-10 am that do most of the damage , so if you are a cat owner and your cat is out at these times ==PLEASE BELL THEM SO BIRDS CAN HAVE A HEADS UP !

Haitham H.
Past Member 6 years ago

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Gridley Snarfwort

Feral cats kill over 40 million -- MILLION - songbirds every year across the US. As a wildlife rehabilitator, I'm tired of having dozens of rare warblers, cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays, juncos, grosbeaks, baby rabbits, baby squirrels (including the most adorable flying squirrels) and other small creatures die in my hands covered with blood and cat bites every spring and summer. Shame on you blind-sighted "feral cat lovers" who see only one species, and ignore the dozens of other wild species who keep getting more and more rare. I have both dogs and cats, but I keep my cats inside to watch the birds at the feeders, not kill them. Shame, shame, shame on you blind turds who let feral cats loose to kill so many, many, many other beautiful creatures.

Mary Beth M.
MaryBeth M7 years ago

A sad story on so many levels. This educated woman in a position of power used her misguided love of birds to declare war on another species. On the other hand, the life of any feral cat is dismal, short-lived and tragic at best. Animal control officers around the country round up stray and feral animals by the thousands, and due to the lack of concern for spaying/neutering and caring for pets responsibly, most of those animals, through no fault of their own, will die. As a nation, we have allowed this to happen. To be shocked by this woman's behavior should only cause us to look at the plight of so many animals who are stray or feral due to our inaction.

Nicholas K.
Nicholas K.7 years ago

The response to this misguided action is actually not surprising but frightening. Animal lovers are one group of people, Environmental conservationists are another. In my opinion,the two do not overlap very much. Misguided sentimentality often has a destructive effect on the natural environment.
The stupid simplistic example of how killing cats on an island let the rats and rabbits kill the birds is an example of how destructive WE as a species are. The cats, rats AND rabbits were ALL unnatural and put there by man. I consider myself an environmental supporter. There is very little positive to be said for any cat tame or feral in terms of their environmental impact. The situation is very complicated. The doctor was misguided, but the cats, if removed would improve the natural environment. Rats should be That is not a very controversial question. Cats should be all of a sudden "animal lovers" start to complain at this concept. To summarise from my perspective. The birds and small mammals are a natural part of the eco-system, so please animal them and their right to existence. The feral cats are an unnatural, destructive addition to the eco-system put there by man. Treat them humanely by all means but try to balance their rights with those of natural creatures.

Terri B.
Terri B7 years ago

and eric w., you said you trapped and removed feral cats because you had to. you also are mis-informed about feral cats. statistics show, trapping and removing feral cats just makes room for other feral cats to move in. tnr is the best solution possible, since they will not reproduce and since they are being cared for and fed by caretakers, they do not "eradicate" bird populations. that is such a stupid statement that it would almost be funny if it were not so pathetic. you too need to read up about feral cats, you are just as ignorant as david l.