Photo Courtesy Alley Cat Allies

Photo Courtesy Alley Cat Allies

Cat Network’s response to ZooMiami’s statements about free-roaming cats:

The recent decision to remove free-roaming cats from ZooMiami and the surrounding areas, including Larry & Penny Thompson Park, has sparked much controversy.  We strongly feel that the Zoo must and should protect their exotic populations; however, the approach that was chosen will not meet this objective and the communication justifying this action is inaccurate, misleading and nothing short of fear mongering.

ZooMiami’s “Statement regarding trap, neuter and re-homing (TNR)” starts out with the misuse of the term TNR, which stands for trap, neuter, RETURN.  While this may seem insignificant, it is not.  The expectation that these (and other) free-roaming cats can simply be rehomed is unrealistic, and misleads people into believing that is a reasonable solution to addressing populations of free-roaming cats. Cats that are friendly and used to interacting with humans may be good candidates for rehoming, but cats that are truly feral are unlikely to adjust to a new location, and require an extended period (2-4 weeks or longer) of confinement to allow them to acclimate to their new home.

The single most effective method of protecting the zoo’s animal population would be to create barriers to entrance for all other land species.  Surely if the zoo can create barriers to contain large cats, elephants, kangaroos, monkeys and their other species, they could create a barrier to prevent other animals from entering the exhibits.  We believe there was a concrete moat that surrounded Zoo Miami when it was built; brush could be cleared and cat fencing could be installed where needed to prevent animals from entering the property.

ZooMiami noted there is an “exploding population of feral/free-roaming cats” which begs the question what has caused this dramatic population increase.  Community cat caretakers had been humanely managing the population of cats in the park until they were prohibited from doing so by the Parks Department.  This change occurred because the Parks adopted a zero tolerance policy regarding cats in the park, yet they did not effectively prevent abandonment of new animals or prevent the population from growing. Thirteen of the seventeen cats that were trapped and transferred to Miami Dade Animal Services were unsterilized.  It certainly appears that this zero tolerance policy and feeding ban has not worked.

Stating “feral/free-roaming cats may transmit rabies, toxoplasmosis and other parasitic diseases to both humans and wildlife” implies cats are the only risk factors when bats, raccoons and other species can transmit rabies & parasitic diseases. Cats that have been sterilized through TNR efforts are vaccinated against rabies.  While cats are the only species that sheds toxoplasmosis oocysts in their feces, according to the CDC toxoplasmosis can also be transmitted via raw or undercooked meat as well as improperly washed fruits and vegetables.

The Zoo’s assertion that “these cats can carry Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia…is a serious threat to pet cats being responsibly kept by their owners” was absolutely inaccurate and nothing short of fear mongering. FIV is transmitted through deep bite wounds and Feline Leukemia (FeLV) is primarily transmitted through maternal transmission to kittens, and possibly transmitted through prolonged direct contact exposure. This assertion makes it sound as though people visiting the park or other areas with free-roaming cats could bring the viruses home on their bodies or clothing and infect their pet cats; this is not true. Neither FIV nor FeLV are casually transmitted.

Most disturbing to us is the Zoo’s use of junk science, stating “feral/free-roaming cats are extremely detrimental to native wildlife and are believed to kill on average a million birds a day in the United States and billions of native mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians on an annual basis.” While cats do hunt, their actual take has not been scientifically determined (scientific reliability would require random samples, not selective self-reporting) and these numbers are wildly speculative and inaccurate.  In addition, cats are not the greatest threat to these species, HUMANS are.  We have destroyed and dramatically reduced habitat, impacted reproductive capacity by our use of pesticides, created dangerous obstacles for birds such as communications towers and high rise buildings, not to mention the potential impact of climate change. Pointing to the need to protect critically endangered Pine Rockland habitat is a key case in point: much of that habitat has already been degraded and more is slated for development due to the sale of the land.

Please refrain from misleading the public, and encourage ZooMiami and the Parks Department to take action that will truly protect their valuable animal population.  Continuing to use the cats as scapegoats while ignoring the scientific evidence is beneath them.

Karen Rundquist, President and Cat Network Board of Directors

P.O. Box 347228

Miami, FL 33234-7228