How Feeding Feral Cats Puts Pilots’ Lives In Danger | |

Anyone connected to a group of wild cats outside the fence line should contact Lance McDaniel, NAS Patuxent River’s environmental director, to discuss a partnership to humanely capture and remove the growing wild cat population aboard the facility. (USAF photo by SRA Racheal E. Watson)

NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Providing food to feed the wild cat population that inhabits the NAS Patuxent River may seem harmless, but the unexpected wider effects of this action could be potentially catastrophic.

Both the Pax River and Webster Outlying Field have had wild cat colonies for years, supported by a population of civilians who lay out food in various locations near buildings and in locations along forest lines.

“This food not only attracts cats, but also other wildlife such as raccoons, foxes, coyotes, vultures and other birds,” said Lance McDaniel, director of the Pax River environment. “And vultures can shoot down a plane.”

Danger to humans

McDaniel is closely involved in the installation’s Bird / Animal Strike Hazard (BASH) program. The BASH Group is made up of employees from the Environmental Division and Air Operations who, along with flight safety officers from the squadrons, meet regularly and work to keep birds and animals at bay to aid aerodrome safety and the mission. Flocks of birds and larger birds are known to cause most damage to aircraft.

“Vultures are a high risk species for aircraft, typically because of their size and the fact that they occur in multiples rather than just solitary animals; We hit vultures here with airplanes, ”explains Jim Swift, natural resource specialist. “Leftover cat food attracts vultures. We saw vultures at the feeding stations, and they don’t just come from a block but from a few miles away. “

The vultures, which can weigh up to 4 pounds. and having a wingspan of 6 feet get used to these foraging areas, although they do move occasionally, noted McDaniel.

“They know where the feeding places are and at some point they start to nest here [and present an ongoing BASH problem]”He said.” Right now they are in the air on their way to and from the feeding stations, mostly during the day, and then we fly. People need to realize that a vulture can cause millions of dollars in engine damage or the total loss of an airplane , but can also lead to the loss of human life. “

The wild animals attracted by the food – as well as the wild cats themselves – become less suspicious of people and approach hangars and buildings during the day, which is a safety problem and a possible health risk for all Pax employees.

“The cats are not vaccinated and could be carriers of diseases, with rabies being the most dangerous,” noted Swift. “Not only is it deadly to cats, but also to people and other animals that come into contact with these cats, and many of these feeding stations are located near people’s workplaces. The longer cats become dependent on humans, the more they want to interact with humans and the greater the likelihood that these interactions will lead to a negative outcome, including some type of disease or rabies. “

Coyotes have also moved closer to workplaces and residential areas.

“Not only do the coyotes smell the food they leave out, but the cats that the food attracts are an excellent source of food for them,” said Swift. “Bring additional wild animals [into populated areas] will cause danger and that will certainly not end well for the wildlife. “

Even welcome wildlife such as songbirds are negatively affected.

“Wild cats eat songbirds,” added McDaniel. “The annual surveys of our bird populations show a decline because we brought an invasive species – a domesticated animal – into a wild situation. They don’t just eat the cat food that is laid out for them. “

Captured on camera and intentionally blurred is a woman who leaves food for wild cats on board the installation. It is illegal to feed or release animals on a federal facility. It is also illegal to manipulate or destroy traps. Disciplinary measures, fines and other criminal sanctions can be imposed. (Courtesy photo)

Cause of the problem; possible solution

The wildcat situation, which has only worsened over the years, is believed to be due to a combination of residents who negligently discard domestic cats before moving and well-intentioned cat lovers who do one of two things.

“Either catch, neuter, and release the cats that were on the base, or they bring cats to the base to be released because they see the Pax River as some sort of sanctuary,” said McDaniel. “They also display the bowls of food and water because they believe the cats cannot take care of themselves. We have a few of these people and their vehicles on video and camera, and some people at the base will call us and provide us with their license plates and descriptions as they watch these feeders. “

It is illegal to release or feed any animal – wild or domesticated – in a federal agency, noted Mc Daniel. Anyone caught releasing or feeding wild cats or animals will face disciplinary action by their command or facility. Fines and other criminal sanctions may be imposed for tampering with or destroying traps and other control devices.

“My job is to manage the animal population in the facility and I can’t do that when people set up multiple cat feeding stations that move, with multiple people at each station sometimes feeding at 11am. I sweep up food three times a day and throw it away. It’s a waste, ”said McDaniel. “As a first attempt, we have to use humane traps to capture and remove the cats and then give them to an animal shelter. but these people will set the traps up so that they don’t work, which makes them unsuccessful. “

For the record, McDaniel considers himself a “cat person,” but as environmental director and responsible for managing Pax River’s wildlife, he has few options.

“We are allowed to human catch them, but if traps are unsuccessful, we will humanly take them down,” he said. “I’d rather not do that. What would be nice would be if we could partner with one of the feral cat groups outside the fence line for a couple of weeks to capture and remove them from the base. It would give them a chance for a future. These groups have the manpower, expertise and supplies needed to catch the cats. “

McDaniel can be reached by email at

“If anyone knows anyone associated with these groups, let them contact me,” added McDaniel. “It’s better for the cats because the alternative is not good.”

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