National Zoo bird researcher is charged with attempting to poison feral cats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2011:
WASHINGTON D.C.–Alley Cat Allies and
Alley Cat Rescue on May 26, 2011 asked the
Smithsonian Institution to suspend National Zoo
Migratory Bird Center researcher Nico Dauphine.
Dauphine was charged three days earlier with
attempted animal cruelty for allegedly trying to
poison feral cats. If convicted, Dauphine could
be fined up to $1,000 and could be sentenced to
180 days in jail.
Dauphine denied the offense in a brief
statement issued by her attorney.

“Evidence shows she was putting rat
poison and antifreeze in cat food left for
community cats in her neighborhood of Columbia
Heights, in Washington D.C.,” elaborated the
Alley Cat Rescue blog. “Alley Cat Rescue
vehemently disagrees with keeping Dauphine in her
current position at the National Zoo and believes
she should be removed until an investigation into
these allegations of animal cruelty has been
As well as requesting that Dauphine be
suspended from her job, Alley Cat Allies asked
the Smithsonian “for confirmation that she is no
longer conducting her domestic cat research,”
said Alley Cat Allies president Becky Robinson.
Dauphine, until the cruelty charge became
public, was seeking participants in a study in
which small cameras were mounted on free-roaming
cats to document how they hunt birds.
“We know what she’s doing would in no
way jeopardize our animal collection at the
National Zoo or jeopardize wildlife,” National
Zoo associate director of communications Pamela
Baker-Masson told ABC News, “so we feel
perfectly comfortable that she continue her
“Residents living near Malcolm X Park
have long seen feral cats in the neighborhood,
some even setting out food for the animals,”
reported Tim Persinko and Derrick Ward of “But some neighbors believed
that someone was trying to harm the cats, and
they alerted neighborhood animal advocates to the
A Washington Humane Society stakeout,
including video surveillance video, produced the
evidence leading to the charges against Dauphine.
“If she did do this,” Washington Humane Society
vice president for external affairs Scott
Giacoppo told ABC News, “we naturally would be
concerned about her being around all animals.
Whoever would do such a thing is a threat to all
animals. It [poisoning] is a slow and painful
death. It was callous and showed complete
disregard for animals’ well-being.”
“The Humane Society of the United States
applauds the Washington Humane Society for its
investigation into the alleged illegal poisoning
of feral cats, and urges full prosecution by the
U.S. Attorney’s Office if warranted,” commented
HSUS chief operating officer Mike Markarian.
“Regardless of one’s views on cat-bird conflicts,
poisoning feral cats is short-sighted, criminal,
and just the wrong response,” Markarian said.
Markarian is also president of the Humane
Society Legislative Fund, which earlier in 2011
fought what Markarian termed “the most absurd
bill of 2011,” introduced in Utah, “which would
have allowed the shooting or bludgeoning of any
stray cat believed to be feral. That bill was
sent to the litter box,” Markarian noted, “and
instead, Utah enacted a positive measure that
officially sanctions trap-neuter-return (TNR) as
a humane method of managing feral cat
TNR was popularized in the U.S. largely
through the success of a project begun at
Stanford University in 1988 by volunteers
including then-undergrad Nathan Winograd, who
now heads the No Kill Advocacy Center in Oakland,
California; a 1991-1992 project in northern
Fairfield County, Connecticut, conducted by the
founders of ANIMAL PEOPLE; and projects done in
the Washington D.C. area, beginning in 1990, by
Becky Robinson, now president of Alley Cat
Aliies, and Louise Holton, cofounder of Alley
Cat Allies, now president of Alley Cat Rescue.
Robinson and Holton started in the Adams/ Morgan
neighborhood of Washington DC., just a few
blocks from Columbia Heights, where Dauphine was
allegedly caught.
Dauphine in March 2009 complained to
Blake Aued of the Athens (Georgia) Banner Herald
that “her yard is a wildlife habitat, and feral
cats nearly wiped out all the birds that live
there,” Aued wrote.
Previously associated with Cornell
University and the Zoological Society of London,
Dauphine “is known for her articles on cat
predation and anti-TNR sentiments,” summarized
Alley Cat Allies. “Back in 2008 when she lived
in Athens, Georgia, Dauphine wrote to the St.
Petersburg Times saying, ‘Cats may be the single
biggest direct cause of bird mortality, far
outnumbering all other causes (including human
hunters) put together!'”
The usual range of bird deaths caused by
cats found in data-based studies is from about
100 million, projected by U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service ornithologist Albert Manville, to about
134 million, projected in 2000 by Carol Fiore of
the Wichita State University Department of
Biological Sciences–and Fiore estimated that
approximately twice as many pet cats are allowed
to roam as other studies showed.
A variety of recent studies put bird
mortality from roadkills at about 220 million per
year, from agricultural spraying at upward of
320 million, and from collisions with windows at
circa 100 million. Hunters shoot about 74.4
million wild birds per year, including about 35
million mourning doves.
Total U.S. wild bird mortality, from all
causes, may be about five billion per year, but
few studies have tried to determine either total
bird population or total mortality. Studies such
as the annual National Audubon Society Christmas
bird count and the USFWS Breeding Bird Survey
produce seasonal estimates of species in
particular habitats, which are difficult to
extrapolate into year-round estimates of all
species in all habitats.
The American Bird Conservancy web site
provides links to two of Dauphine’s articles,
Impacts of Free-Ranging Domestic Cats (Felis
Catus) on Birds and What Conservation Biologists
Can Do to Counter Trap-Neuter-Return.

Vox Felina

Both have been extensively critiqued by
Vox Felina blogger and science writer Peter J.
Wolf, who describes Vox Felina as “a repository
of research notes, news stories,
correspondence, and associated commentary focused
on a range of issues related to ‘the plight’ of
feral cats in general, and trap-neuter-return in
Wolf focuses on what he terms “the lack
of rigorous research related to the efficacy and
impact of TNR, the flawed science promoted by
many TNR opponents, the unbalanced-often
dishonest-nature of the feral cat/TNR debate,
and the disastrous consequences. There are
legitimate issues to be debated regarding the
efficacy, environmental impact, and morality of
TNR,” Wolf acknowledges. “But attempts at an
honest, productive debate are hampered-if not
derailed entirely-by the dubious claims so often
put forward by TNR opponents.”
Blogged Wolf after Dauphine’s arrest,
“Regular readers will recognize Dauphine’s name
immediately, as I’ve been highly critical of her
work from the very beginning of Vox Felina. It
was, for example, a paper she co-authored with
Robert J. Cooper, published in the Proceedings
of the Fourth International Partners In Flight
Conference, that Steve Holmer, senior policy
advisor for American Bird Conservancy, used to
justify his bogus claim that “there are aboutÅ 160
million feral cats” in the U.S., about 10 times
more than recent data-based estimates indicate.
“I’ve pointed out, more than once,”
Wolf continued, “Dauphine’s dubious
scholarship-citing David Jessup’s unattributed
‘estimate’ of “60 to 100 million feral and
abandoned cats in the United States,’ for
example. Or ignoring the results of multiple
surveys suggesting that roughly two-thirds of pet
cats are kept indoors, in stark contrast to
Dauphine’s assertion that ‘65%, or 57 million,
are free-ranging outdoor cats for at least some
portion of the day.’
“Dauphine also authored Follow the Money:
The Economics of TNR Advocacy,” Wolf recalled,
“where she does to the political and economic
aspects of the debate what she and her colleagues
have been doing to the scientific side of the
debate for years now,” exaggerating the feral
cat defense budgets of organizations such as the
Best Friends Animal Society, while understating
the resources of anti-TNR organizations including
the American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon
Society, and her own employer, the National Zoo
Migratory Bird Center.
“If these charges prove to be true,”
Wolf concluded, “Dauphine is going to have a lot
of explaining-and perhaps a little time-to do.”
Dauphine was charged two weeks after
Hawaii Second Circuit Judge Richard Bissen upheld
a felony cruelty charge filed against Krister
Garcia, 21, one of four men who allegedly used
hunting bows to kill three feral cats between
August 23 and September 2, 2010. The cats were
part of a sterilized colony maintained by
caretaker Jody Sparks. Bissen rejected the
contention of Garcia’s attorney, Ben Lowenthal,
that feral cats are not protected by the Hawaiian
felony cruelty law. “The Legislature found that
violence, whether against humans or animals,
must not be tolerated in our society,” responded
But Galveston Ornithological Society
founder Jim Stevenson won a mistrial on November
16, 2007 when four jurors were unalterably
persuaded that killing feral cats is not illegal
in Texas. Stevenson admitted shooting a cat from
a colony attended by San Luis Pass toll bridge
employee John Newland, but Stevenson contended
the killing was necessary to protect endangered
piping plovers.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.