Cape May delays cat relocation plan

February 19, 2008 8:47:27 PM PST
A packed house of cat lovers convinced the Cape May City Council to hold off on a plan to relocate wild cat colonies away from beaches where endangered shore birds nest. About 100 feline fanciers packed a council meeting Tuesday night, denouncing a plan to move the feral cats at least 1,000 feet from the beach, and a half-mile from any known nests of shore birds such as the piping plover.

Deputy Mayor Niels Favre said the federal government threatened to cut off Cape May's beach replenishment funding if the cats were not moved to protect the birds. That's a serious threat for a resort dependent on tourism dollars.

But Favre and other council members want to try to convince federal and state wildlife officials that Cape May's ongoing efforts to reduce the cat population by trapping, neutering and releasing them are working.

Cats are very much a part of the culture in the beach resort town noted for its Victorian architecture and genteel ambiance.

But Cape May is also a prime bird-watching locale and home to annual World Series of Birding.

The federal Endangered Species Act prohibits killing, harming or even bothering endangered birds like piping plovers and least terns, both of which nest in the shallow sandy ruts of Cape May's popular beach during the summer.

Because they nest on the ground, they are vulnerable to predators, including the wild cats.

Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies, a national cat advocacy group based in Maryland, said recently that Cape May's trap, neuter and release program has succeeded in reducing the city's population of feral cats from 450 to about 100 over the past decade, and said that program should be given time to continue to work.

"Municipalities should be looking to Cape May as an example of how to humanely deal with their cat population," Robinson said. "Cats are a part of the fabric of society here."