Voted Off the Island, San Nicolas Cats Get Second Chance

By on August 5, 2009 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Gray cat captured on San Nicolas Island to be transported to Fund for Animals’ Wildlife Center
© The HSUS/McFarland
One of the San Nicolas Island cats.

The HSUS Animal Care facilities have become a little richer in terms of species composition with the arrival of a group of very special feral cats at The Fund for Animals’ Wildlife Center in Ramona, Calif. Last month, we reported on on the first “Flight for Ferals” that brought 16 wild cats from San Nicolas Island to our sanctuary in San Diego County. San Nicolas is one of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of southern California, renowned as critical habitat for many terrestrial species, as well as seabirds and marine mammals, such as the Southern Elephant Seal.

San Nicolas is one of many islands that have unique plant and animal communities that are extremely vulnerable to human-caused disturbance. For centuries, people have brought cats to islands worldwide as pets, to control other introduced species, or simply by accident. Within the last decade, nearly 50 such islands have been the site of feral cat eradication campaigns, with mixed results. In only one—San Nicolas—have cats been spared death by poisoning, trapping, hunting or the deliberate introduction of disease.

This is because The HSUS, the U.S. Navy, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game and several other state and federal agencies involved with oversight for the Montrose Settlements Restoration Programs on the islands agreed to an alternative approach. To ensure both protections for cats and protection for native species on the island, including the unique Channel Island fox and the federally threatened island night lizard, The HSUS has agreed to accept cats from San Nicolas and place them in a permanent sanctuary at our Ramona facility. As this is written our new cat enclosure is being built (thanks in part to the support of private donors and corporations like, and more cats are scheduled for transport by flight from the island. Our animal care specialists are tending to those who have already arrived.

We already know that for some the future will mean a loving home, since two of our cats gave birth soon after capture. The six kittens are doing well and being socialized early—ensuring they will be adoptable. Some of the feral adults are allowing a little petting, others are asking for attention when their caretakers come into the enclosure, and all seem to really be enjoying the security of regular meals. 

Kittens born to cat from San Nicolas Island
These kittens will be socialized early.

The San Nicolas cats came to the island by someone else’s design, were forced to fend for themselves, and did their best to survive in their environment. Ideally, in local communities, The HSUS recommends that feral cats be trapped, neutered, and returned (TNR) to their environment, allowing them to live out their natural lives but preventing them from reproducing and thereby reducing their numbers through attrition. But that was not an option on San Nicolas, so we set out to explore alternatives, working through complex logistical challenges, and engaging other agencies and organizations, with their own mandates and agendas, in cooperative relationships.

There are millions of feral cats at risk to be found in every possible condition throughout the country. Why devote resources to these few? The short answer to that is because they needed our help. The longer answer goes to our commitment to work on every front needed to protect cats and ensure that the national crisis of homeless and feral cats is resolved—and we can now include a cat shelter among our horse sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and other hands-on services for animals.

Companion Animals, Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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