April 30, 2002 – With V.I. National Park officials ready to launch their plan to reduce the rat, cat and mongoose populations within the park, a consortium of St. John organizations and agencies has agreed to take on the stray cat problem island wide.
"We'll do what's best for the cats," said Laurel Brannick-Trager, president of the V.I. Audubon Society and a member of the group that met last week to organize plans for dealing with the cats.
The group includes representatives from the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Fish and Wildlife Division, Friends of the V.I. National Park and the Animal Care Center of St. John, along with veterinarians and residents concerned about the problem.
While the park is addressing the cat problem as part of its bigger feral animal eradication program, stray cats abound across St. John. And since the cats can't read the Welcome to V.I. National Park signs, they tend to roam into the park.
Park Superintendent John King said that the rat, cat and mongoose control program will begin as soon as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Control Division marshals its resources. He expects that will happen soon.
Cats trapped in the park will be handed over to the Animal Care Center in the hope that the not-for-profit organization can find them homes. First, they will be checked for feline leukemia. Those with the disease will be put to sleep. Those deemed too wild for adoption will be neutered or spayed and relocated to feeding stations now situated around St. John. They will probably be kept at the feeding stations in cages for several weeks to reduce their homing instinct. Should they persist in returning to the park, the third time they are caught they will be sent to the Humane Society in St. Thomas for adoption or euthanization.
The traps used in the park will be checked every six hours to reduce stress to the cats.
The cats will be marked with tags or collars provided by the Audubon Society.
Betty Gerhardt, Animal Care Center treasurer, said that the organization tries to find homes for any adoptable stray cats, but that is a difficult job, given the vast numbers of the animals and the relatively few people interested in taking them in. Many cats left to roam are former pets dumped off in the park or around St. John by their owners.
The Animal Care Center has worked hard to reduce the number of stray cats by spaying and neutering those trapped in the wild. "We're making a lot of headway," Gerhardt said.
Although she could not provide exact numbers, she said the number of cats being trapped for spaying or neutering continues to drop — an indication that the spay-neuter program is effective.
Phase 1 of the park's plan to reduce the rat, cat and mongoose populations will start at Hawksnest, Trunk, Cinnamon and Francis Bays. Rafe Boulon, chief of resources management, said in a news release that it calls for reducing the habitat and food resources for these animals.
Boulon could not be reached for comment Tuesday because he was off island. But he had said last October, when the park was asking for public comment on the animal control plan, that park personnel would reduce animal habitat and food supply by making sure concession stands dispose of food properly and use animal-proof garbage cans. Residents who live within or near the park will be asked to do the same.
In Phase 2, the procedures to reduce the populations to acceptable levels will be extended throughout the park. In Phase 3, park personnel will keep tabs on the animals' numbers; if they get too large, steps will again be implemented to reduce the populations.
To reduce the numbers of rats and mongooses, stations will be baited with diphacione, an anti-coagulant that causes the animals to die by internal bleeding. Boulon said it is a humane way to kill the rats and mongooses — they go to sleep and don't wake up. It works on mammals, not other creatures such as birds, he said.
Boulon said the stations where the bait is placed would not be accessible to larger animals such as cats. The animals return to their burrows to die, he said, so larger animals would not have the opportunity to eat their carcasses.
Park Superintendent John King said trapping the cats will come before baiting the stations with the rat and mongoose poison. He said this will help ensure that the cats don't eat the poison.
The plan to reduce the numbers of rats, cats and mongooses in the park is the culmination of a year-long planning process. Boulon said this is the first time in the park's 45-year history that there has been a comprehensive approach to managing the impact of non-native animals on the park's natural and cultural resources.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.