A balanced and sensible response is needed when suggesting that feral cats are killing rare monk seals off Hawaii
It has been suggested (please note the word used) that the faeces of feral cats living on Hawaii have killed eight rare monk seals because the faeces contained the oocyts of T. gondii. We know that cats carry the disease.
There are approximately 1,300 monk seals in existence in the wild so the death of eight is news and concerning.
In order to put some balance in this story (as I have read it) the scientists have thus far suggested that the cause of the seal deaths is a toxoplasmosis infection. In other words, they are not sure.
The symptoms of the infected seals are lesions in “adrenal glands, brain, diaphragm, lymph nodes and spleen” (as stated by the Washington Post).
It has been decided that the cause is “most likely” the ingestion of oocyts; the oocyts having got into the sea when rain washes them from the land. It should also be added that the death of these seals occurred over a fifteen-year timespan. This is hardly a major crisis.
Okay the first point is that the diagnosis is not yet conclusive.
The second point is that if the cause of the death is feral cat faeces, then in truth the underlying or indirect cause is the carelessness of humans in letting domestic cats become feral and letting feral cats multiply.
If Hawaiians were ideal cat owners there would be no feral cats or at least far fewer feral cats and therefore the risk of seals ingesting oocyts would be much reduced and possibly eliminated. We have to look at the underlying cause. Slaughtering thousands of feral cats on Hawaii on the back of a suggestion is unfair although I understand the reality.
There is no point in killing feral cats unless the root cause is also tackled: educating cat owners and instilling in them a greater sense of responsibility for both cats and wildlife. There should be no feral cats. All feral cats are caused by sloppy cat ownership ultimately.
Thirdly, it is reported that monk seals have been beaten to death by fishermen because the seals eat local fish stocks. Some seals have been shot. Nine have been killed this way since 2009. These killings are a federal crime as the seal is protected.
My Suggestion would be to firstly conclusively decide that the seals have died as a result of a toxoplasmosis infection. Secondly, if that is the assessment, to TNR the feral cats or if demanded to humanely cull them on the island (a poorer option). This must means euthanasia by a vet or vet tech. Thirdly to educate cat owners on the island to prevent the creation of more feral cats. It is all about common sense and decency. News media should be more cautious in reporting these sorts of events and stop maligning the feral cats. We created them.