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Improved feral animal management needed

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

On Tuesday, the Healthy Families and Communities Committee held its second meeting to address the issue of feral animal management in Maui County.

Feral animals — including cats, chickens, pigs and deer — raise serious concerns for many residents and pose substantial risks for native plant and animal species. Without proper management, feral animals cause health, environmental and quality-of-life problems.

For example, feral deer and pigs can cause serious car accidents and damage farmland and crops, while feral cats and chickens create grime and noise in neighborhoods. Written and verbal testimony to the committee has documented these and many other problems.

To address these concerns and protect our communities, enhanced feral animal management plans for the County of Maui need to be developed.

That said, I realize the council can’t mandate a one-size-fits-all management plan. Each island or district’s specific topography, infrastructure and urban, residential, rural or agricultural character are significant factors in determining the type of animal control that’s needed.

Keeping this in mind, the committee may consider a variety of ways to address feral animals, likely focusing first on the county’s ever-expanding cat population. Feral cats create notable dangers to our community, in part because they often bear the parasite known as toxoplasmosis, which can affect humans, other mammals and birds.

One of the animals seriously impacted by this parasite is the Hawaiian monk seal, one of the most endangered seal species in the world. In 2018, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released data showing that, since 2001, the deaths of at least 12 monk seals were caused by toxoplasmosis that entered the marine environment through contaminated water or prey.

I am looking to introduce legislation that bans the feeding of feral animals in public areas. This behavior encourages feral populations to congregate and allows the parasite and other diseases to spread.

The committee may be open to the idea of managed cat colonies run by individuals or organizations that have been granted permits to operate in specific areas, such as the Lanai Cat Sanctuary. This approach may allow more effective management of the animals’ location and disposal of waste, helping to prevent parasitic infections.

The committee may also consider the idea of requiring Maui County residents to license their cats, just as they are already required to license their dogs. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has endorsed this proposal in written testimony.

To receive a license, a cat owner would have to provide proof the animal has been spayed or neutered and received necessary vaccinations. Exceptions to the sterilization requirement could be considered for licensed rescues, kennels, pet shops or similar organizations.

The county should also prohibit the ownership of an excessive number of cats. Licensing would provide a way to keep track of ownership statistics and help to mitigate unsafe conditions for these animals.

It’s clear Maui County needs to take serious steps in combating the feral animal issues facing our islands. As my committee meetings have shown, many residents feel strongly about this issue as it impacts our homes, families and community well-being in numerous ways.

I look forward to continuing to work with the community and my fellow council members to find creative solutions that will protect all of our residents and our natural environment.

* Riki Hokama is chair of the Healthy Families and Communities Committee. He holds the council seat for the Lanai residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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