Research examines national attitudes on what to do about feral cats

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Chris Lepcyzk, (808) 956-2617
Assistant Professor, College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources
Posted: Sep 17, 2012

There exists sharply divergent views on the topic of managing outdoor cats, according to research done by Chris Lepczyk, an Assistant Professor within the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at UH Manoa.

Lepczyk recently co-authored a paper published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE that tracks the attitudes toward feral cats of two groups of people, cat colony caretakers (CCCs) and bird conservation professionals (BCPs).

The study, co-written by M. Nils Petersen, Brett Hartis, Shari Rodriguez and Matthew Green, used various means including social media to identify and contact 577 survey respondents across the U.S., asking them questions of fact and attitude about feral cats.

The paper points out that "managing outdoor cats has been a contentious issue in recent years,” with stakeholders tending to favor either trap-neuter-return (TNR) policies, which they argue will eventually lead to the elimination of the colonies, or euthanasia.  Also at issue are how much damage and what sort of damage are caused by feral cats.

Among other questions, the survey asked respondents whether they were aware of the controversy and, if so, how they thought it could be resolved. They discovered that the two groups hold sharply divergent views, with CCCs favoring TNR and underestimating the dangers to other wildlife, including native bird species, posed by cats.  Meanwhile, BCPs upheld the options of treating cats as pests and euthanizing them.

Identity politics, the paper’s authors argue, is at the root of the divide between CCCs and BCPs, with the former sympathetic toward the plight of the cats and the latter concerned about the dwindling population of birds--attitudes that persist whether or not CCCs also consider themselves “bird people” or BCPs also identify as “cat people.”

In Hawai‘i, the debate is particularly heated, due to the state's fragile ecosystem and endangered native bird populations, and also to the many cat colonies that are able to thrive in the warm climate. This level of concern was reflected by the fact that the largest number of respondents to the survey were from Hawai‘i, 39 CCCs and 12 BCPs, compared with only 2 and 0, respectively, from Nebraska.

Two of Lepczyk’s graduate students, Cheryl Lohr and Alisa Davis, are also studying aspects of the feral cat issue. Lohr’s dissertation is on “Human Dimensions of Introduced Terrestrial Vertebrates in the Hawaiian Islands,” including free-roaming cats.  Davis has been involved with management of the large cat colonies on the UH Manoa campus and tracking infectious diseases, such as toxoplasmosis, of which cats are the definitive host.

(Photo caption) Cats in a feral cat colony on the UH Manoa campus. Credit: Alisa Davis.