Cats removed from “Island of the Blue Dolphins”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2010:
VENTURA–Birders and feral cat defenders
both claim victory over the outcome of a cat
eradication program on San Nicolas Island, 65
nautical miles west of the California mainland.
The semi-arid 24-square-mile island was
occupied by the Nicoleño people when discovered
by Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602.
The Nicoleño were evacuated in 1835 by Spanish
missionaries who hoped to save them from bloody
raids by Russian-led Aleut sealers. None
survived exposure to mainland diseases for more
than a few years.
The story of the last Nicoleño, a young
woman who escaped evacuation and lived alone on
the island for 18 years, was fictionalized in
The Island of the Blue Dolphins, winner of the
1961 Newberry Award for best children’s book.
The woman died seven weeks after Captain George
Nidever and crew found her and transported her to
Santa Barbara in 1853.
That left only two species of land
mammals on the island: deer mice and the
endangered Channel Islands fox. Sheep,
introduced in the late 19th century, were
removed in 1943. Cats are believed to have come
after the U.S. Navy built a missile launching and
tracking station on the island in 1957.
Officially uninhabited, San Nicolas Island
actually houses about 200 Navy personnel on
temporary assignment at any given time.
In June 2008 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service proposed to kill the estimated 100 to 200
feral cats surviving on San Nicolas Island, using
padded leghold traps, shooters, and dogs. The
cats were accused of hunting deer mice, island
night lizards, Brandt’s cormorants, western
gulls, and western snowy plovers, in
competition with the foxes.
“But a joint effort by the Navy, Humane
Society of the U.S., the Fish and Wildlife
Service, and the California Department of Fish
and Game saved the cats,” recounted Oceanside
freelance writer Patty McCormac in the Christmas
Eve 2009 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Sixty-three cats were captured and sent to
Ramona to live at the Fund for Animals Wildlife
Rehabilitation Center. Their fenced habitat cost
$60,000. Charter plane fares, food, and staff
to care for the cats added to the expense.
DoGreatGood.com, which raises funds for a
variety of charities, donated $100,000.”
The removal of cats from bird habitat to
a fenced enclosure is the approach to feral cat
populations recommended by the American Bird
Conservancy, but would be prohibitive in most
situations, and would not prevent other cats
from migrating into habitat except for remote