Nearly 70 percent of Oahu voters want feral cats removed from Hawaii, according to The Civil Beat Poll conducted earlier this month by Merriman River Group.

Just 13 percent want to leave the cats alone, 9 percent had no opinion either way and 9 percent were unsure.

There are roughly 300,000 free-roaming cats on Oahu and many thousands more on the neighbor islands.

Colonies are thriving in neighborhoods ranging from the University of Hawaii Manoa campus to Waianae’s homeless encampment, in alleys behind hotels and along trails in the mountains.

There’s growing concern about the cats’ unique ability to spread toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that in the last 15 years has killed at least eight critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals and two spinner dolphins, as well as nene geese and native birds.

Nationwide, cats threaten biodiversity, decimating bird species and killing other animals by the billions, according to a new book, “Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer.”

But scientists and animal-rights activists disagree about the most effective strategy to deal with the issue.

The Hawaiian Humane Society backs an approach it calls “Trap, Neuter, Release and Manage.” The nonprofit touts it as a compassionate way to maintain colonies in safe environments while limiting the spread of the disease and proliferation of feral cats.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources have said a more aggressive strategy is necessary— one that may entail culling to reduce the population.

The Civil Beat Poll surveyed 832 registered Oahu voters from Oct. 10 to Oct. 13. The margin of error was 3.4 percent.

Voters were asked:

“One additional local issue that has received a lot of attention is the large number of feral house cats living in the state. There are about 300,000 free-roaming cats on Oahu and thousands more on the neighbor islands. The cats are an invasive mainland species, and many of them spread a disease called toxoplasmosis, which is deadly to an endangered local species called the Hawaiian Monk Seal. There are just over one-thousand Hawaiian Monk Seals left in existence.

A recent Civil Beat editorial suggested that the only way to maintain Hawaii’s ecosystem, and keep Hawaiian Monk Seals from edging closer to extinction, is to kill off the population of feral cats. But others have argued that the cats should not be killed, because these problems are not their fault. If you had to choose — what would you do?”

A monk seal pup rests with its mother after a swim in the ocean.
A Hawaiian monk seal pup rests with its mother after a swim in the ocean. At least eight of these critically endangered animals — roughly 1,200 exist worldwide — have died from toxoplasmosis, a disease that cats transmit through their feces. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Cats have evolved to become the “definitive host” of toxoplasmosis. They’re the only animal in which the toxoplasma parasite can sexually reproduce, which happens in their guts, and then millions of eggs hitch a ride out of the cat through its feces.

It’s usually kittens that produce the “toxo,” as it’s commonly called, and only for a week or two. But it’s a robust parasite that can live 18 months or longer in the soil, fresh water or even saltwater, according to scientists and veterinarians.

“Nobody wants to euthanize cats. It’s not something you desire to do. It’s just an understanding that this is something that’s not part of our natural environment here and it’s destroying our ecosystem,” Angela Amlin, NOAA’s protected species policy analyst, told Civil Beat.

Pamela Burns, president and CEO of the Hawaiian Humane Society, has recognized the threat that toxoplasmosis, as well as humans and habitat loss, pose to the free-ranging cats.

Dozens of feral cats come out from the brush after people left fresh cat food on the wall.
Dozens of feral cats come out of the brush after people left fresh cat food on a wall in Hawaii Kai. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

But she has said the nonprofit believes all animals deserve humane treatment, and should not be subject to a hierarchy that puts some species ahead of others.

“Before any solutions or policies are proposed, more data-driven research is needed, and more experts need to be involved in the discussion,” Burns said in a Community Voice submission to Civil Beat.

Civil Beat reported about the feral cat issue and toxoplasmosis at length in August. There have been subsequent media reports in Honolulu Magazine and by the Associated Press.

An interagency group is working to identify strategies to address the issue.

Read the full poll results below.

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