Endangered In the Florida Keys: Journalism

The witch-hunt against free-roaming cats—promoted by USFWS and others—is doing nothing to protect the threatened and endangered species in the Keys (and elsewhere). Neither is the sloppy reporting that allows the agency to mislead policymakers and the general public.

Monday’s Tampa Bay Times reported that a captive breeding program aimed at saving the endangered Key Largo woodrat from extinction has been shut down.

“At first the breeding program seemed to be a big success. At Lowry Park and, later, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the endangered rats bred like, well, rats. But then the project ran into big problems, demonstrating why captive breeding is a tricky strategy that’s used only as a last resort, said Larry Williams, South Florida field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service.” [1]

In fact, reporter Craig Pittman provides no evidence that the Key Largo woodrats were ever “breeding like rats.” Not even in the wild. Indeed, as he points out, “they… tend to be solitary. The males and females only get together when the female is ready to breed.” [1]

In any case, the population in the Keys—now limited to Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park—continued, by all accounts, to decline. “Wildlife biologists,” writes Pittman, “didn’t have to look far for the reason.”

“Next to the parks is the Ocean Reef Club, a gated community that boasts some of South Florida’s wealthiest residents—as well as the state’s largest feral cat population. Ocean Reef’s homeowners spend thousands of dollars a year on a program that feeds and cares for the stray cats that wander the back alleys—and, according to biologists—occasionally gobble up endangered rats.” [1]

It’s true that biologists didn’t have to look far. “The primary threat to the Key Largo woodrat,” explains a 1999 USFWS report (which, admittedly, includes feral cats among the “other threats associated with human encroachment”), “is habitat loss and fragmentation caused by increasing urbanization.” [2]

But Pittman’s so busy trying to pin the Key Largo woodrat’s fate on the one-percenters that he fails (conveniently!) to mention that the Ocean Reef cats are also sterilized. Read more