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NOAA Prevents Island Cat-astrophe

Last month, NOAA was part of a project so complex it was like herding cats—literally. To help protect native wildlife, we removed more than 60 feral cats from San Nicolas Island, off the coast of Southern California.

The island, which is owned by the U.S. Navy, used to be home to military personnel, who brought cats to the island decades ago. The cats preyed on nesting seabirds and threatened species like the island night lizards. They also competed for prey with native island foxes, so the fox population shrank as the cat population grew. They had to go. But removing them wasn’t easy—San Nicolas is a barren island, difficult to access. And we were concerned about how to catch the cats humanely, without disturbing other wildlife.

So we teamed with other agencies—including the U.S. Navy, Island Conservation, Institute for Wildlife Studies, and the Humane Society of the United States—on this $3 million project. We placed 250 traps throughout the island, and treated and released any foxes that were caught incidentally. The cats were brought to a wildlife center on the mainland, where all of the kittens were adopted and some adults are now finding new homes. We set up motion-sensing cameras and have not detected any cats since the last one was removed.

This was the fifth-largest project of its kind in the world, and the largest that didn’t use poison—earning praise from animal rights groups. Last week, the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association awarded the project partners a Conservation Partnerships Award for their efforts.

The project will help restore the natural balance to the island's ecosystem, and will be used as a model for similar efforts in the future. These efforts were supported by NOAA’s Montrose Settlements Restoration Program, which works to aid natural resources affected by the releases of DDT and PCBs into the southern California marine environment.

Posted March 19,2012