1. Jessica Castro Prieto
  2. http://www.igert.org/profiles/4404
  3. Graduate Student
  4. Presenter’s IGERT
  5. University of Puerto Rico
  1. María Andrade-Núñez
  2. http://www.igert.org/profiles/5035
  3. Graduate Student
  4. Presenter’s IGERT
  5. University of Puerto Rico

Judges’ Queries and Presenter’s Replies

  • Icon for: Jeffrey Lidz

    Jeffrey Lidz

    May 21, 2013 | 02:45 p.m.

    Can you say more about how the solution to this particular problem can provide insight into a more general issue, perhaps about community-based problem solving, urban animal populations, or some other issue?

  • Icon for: María Andrade-Núñez

    María Andrade-Núñez

    May 22, 2013 | 09:43 a.m.

    Good morning Dr Lidz, and thanks for your question. We believe that to find a solution for at least one of the problems related to free-ranging cats (i.e. social dispute) a community-based approach will be necessary for the project to succeed. The involvement of the community in the process of discussing different strategies and selecting the most appropriate ones will be critical to improve the social relationship among Old San Juan residents and Save a Gato supporters. As far as we know, this is the first time that resident’s opinions are being considered during this process. Past strategies (including Save a Gato) failed to solve free-ranging cats problems as none of them took into account perception about this issue. So, we strongly believe that a community-based approach in this project is fundamental to tackle most of the problems related with free-ranging cats. This study could be used as an example to solve other socio-environmental problems in this city including: controlling the large abundance of domestic pigeons in public plazas and outdoor coffee bars, improving waste management and recycling, and maintaining public areas clean and safe for the enjoyment of all residents and visitors.

  • May 21, 2013 | 09:21 p.m.

    Hi free-range cat team,
    What stake-holders have you identified for the community workshop you have planned? How will you identify them and get them to participate?

  • May 22, 2013 | 11:16 a.m.

    Good morning Dr. Sherman and thanks for your questions and interest in our project. We have identified different stakeholders throughout the development of the project, and before the beginning of it since one of us have been living in Old San Juan for almost eight years, so this has been a great advantage to understand the issue and to identify those residents who support and don’t support the NGO Save a Gato and free-ranging cat colonies. Beyond these two groups, other stakeholders include: the municipality of San Juan as cats inhabit public streets, US National Park Service that administrates the historical forts and a public historic trail called “Paseo de la Princesa” with the largest cat colony of about 60 cats. In addition, the ”Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña” that administrates some museums, including the Casa Blanca Museum that hosts many cats and the largest urban forest in the old city, and the Puerto Rican School of Veterinary and Medicine.
    During the IGERT Environmental communication course, we developed an environmental communication campaign, in which this video is one of the products, but also we designed an education flyer and a sticker in order to increase the awareness among residents and non-residents about the implications of having a large population of free roaming cats in the streets of Old San Juan, or any other urban area. With this communication campaign we also want to reach those stakeholders that are more skeptical and also to identify new ones, including students from the social or environmental sciences interested in conducting research in any of the associated problems. During cat’s census and video making we had the opportunity to talk with several residents from both groups of supporters and non-supporters, and both agreed about the need of finding a solution regarding free-ranging cats. For this reason and because the recently elected mayor in San Juan addressed this issue during her political campaign, we believe this is the right moment to present our project to the public audience and to develop the workshop

  • Icon for: Sandra Pinel

    Sandra Pinel

    May 21, 2013 | 09:31 p.m.

    This presentation was facinating. Thank you. Your third research objective was to have the data used in the development of a community-based approach. How might your team research the reasons that the current GATO program is not working and what could be done to make it work or to have it provide a viable alternative. How would you want to involve policy makers in the research?

  • Icon for: María Andrade-Núñez

    María Andrade-Núñez

    May 22, 2013 | 01:10 p.m.

    Good afternoon Dr. Pinel. We are really happy that you like our video!!! Thanks a lot.
    Regarding your first question, Save a Gato volunteers had told us in many opportunities about the major difficulties that they have to deal with, including lack of funds and volunteers, and large numbers of dumping cats. During our search, we found that the board committee of this NGO has been changing a lot since the foundation of the NGO in 2004. For example, last year the President of the NGO moved out Puerto Rico and one of the NGO’s founders passed away. So, these two situations have resulted on administrative disorganization that as a consequence has negatively affected SaG field work. Administrative limitations also include the lack of statistical data necessary to request and compete for funds. In this regards, we believe that our population estimate method and preliminary results will provide the starting point from which SaG could departure to keep collecting scientific information using a simple, but standardize methodology. Other two problems that we mentioned above are: the lack of volunteers and dumpling cats in the streets of Old San Juan. With our environmental communication campaign (this video is one of the products) we want to catch the attention of residents and non-residents to increase the number of volunteers, increase awareness about this issue and in this manner help to reduce the number of dumping cats. Finally, we identified a fourth problem associated with the large amount of cats in the streets. This is the nuisance from urine and feces in public areas. To minimize this problem, we proposed to hand out a flyer to cat feeders to makes them also responsible of cleaning the areas where they feed the cats by placing litter boxes or scooping the cat’s poop, in the same way as dog’s owners must do in this city.
    Regarding your second question, currently we are in the initial steps of the communication campaign (planning and design), but the next step includes presenting our results and ideas to the municipality of San Juan in order to involve them and have their support during the execution of this project (workshop organization). We believe that the support from the local government will be fundamental for this project to succeed and their involvement is highly probable as the recently elected mayor of San Juan Carmen Julin, addressed this issue during her political campaign in January of this current year.

  • Icon for: Wayde Morse

    Wayde Morse

    May 21, 2013 | 11:23 p.m.

    Interesting project. Have you done any assessment of the actual health impacts from the cats from feces or from bites/scratches? Have you done an assessment of the number of native species that the cats might be estimated to eat/kill? Having data on these items might be important to have an informed stakeholder meeting.

  • May 22, 2013 | 01:21 p.m.

    Good afternoon Dr. Morse and thanks for your comment and questions.
    We have not done any assessment related to the impact of free-ranging cats on health and native species locally, yet. With the exception of the perception analysis about this issue, the other problems (public health and impact on wildlife) are based on the extensive published literature on these two topics. As IGERT students in an interdisciplinary program our project has focused mainly in the social aspect of this issue, but we understand that solving this social problem will have a positive impact on the other two. As this project is part of the IGERT core courses in the University of Puerto Rico, we are taking classes during its development so we did not had the time that this complex project requires, so as biologists we prefer to take advantage of this project to improve our knowledge in a completely new area for us, that is the social science. Your suggestions are really valuables for us and we are actually trying to find students in Environmental Sciences, Biology, Medicine, and Veterinary to encourage them to conduct research in the topics that you suggested. We completely agree with you that local information related to the impact of free-ranging cats on cats and humans health as well as the impact on native and endemic species are a must for this project to succeed and for a successful community meeting.

  • Icon for: Gary Kofinas

    Gary Kofinas

    May 22, 2013 | 12:17 a.m.

    Jessica, Interesting topic. What are the cost limitations of initiating a massive trap neuter program and is this a feasible solution?

  • May 22, 2013 | 02:25 p.m.

    Thanks Dr. Kofinas! The NGO Save a Gato has been developing a Trap Neuter and Release program for more than 10 years. After all these years, their program has not been effective in reducing cat population, in providing good health condition for cats in the streets and in reducing public nuisance from cats due to fund cuts, lack of long-term volunteers support and dumping cats. However, if all of these limitations have not existed we think the program could have been successful, at least to reduce the population size, but not to solve other problems such as nuisance from feces and urine. As you have noticed, we estimated 70% of recaptures so with all of these limitations this method works pretty well, but free-ranging cats are still an issue.
    Regarding your suggestion about the massive campaign we understand that even though it could accelerate the positive results of this program, we think it will be much more time and money consuming and in this moment it could not be afforded by SaG. During an interview with one of SaG volunteers (Miriam that shows up in the video) she told us that each cat cost around $100 which includes vet service for neutering, vaccination (rabies and the feline immunodeficiency virus-FIV), and to treat them for external and internal parasites. She said that SaG expends about $3000/month in food, cleaning products (for the cat’s shelter) and cat’s veterinary care, and they are facing problems to raise this amount monthly as most of their money comes from people’s donations. So we think a massive campaign to trap and neuter all of the cats is less probable as it would require logistic and financial support that SaG doesn’t have in this moment. Logistic limitations include having enough traps and skilled personnel to trap cats. Trapping the most domesticated cats could be an easy task, however, there are many of them that are less friendly and may take many hours/days to catch them. For example, the largest colony is located in a coastal area with large rocks that cats use to hide, and from our own experience it was very difficult to even identify individuals in this area. In addition to this, it would be necessary to have enough vets to treat all of the cats trapped, and a suitable area (surgery room) to put neutered cats during recovery. So we think that even though a massive trap neutered program could be helpful to reduce the population in a shorter time period, we think that it will be less probable without external funding or a research team with specific interests in this issue.

  • Icon for: Gary Kofinas

    Gary Kofinas

    May 23, 2013 | 07:18 p.m.

    Thanks for the thoughtful response.

  • Icon for: Sandra Pinel

    Sandra Pinel

    May 23, 2013 | 08:56 a.m.

    Hello again, Jessica. Just a suggestion, that you include as a generalizable scientific contribution from your IGERT program and research, the methodology of action-based participatory research in making science a more powerful part of behavioral change. Dr. Pinel

  • May 23, 2013 | 10:29 a.m.

    Good morning!. We completely agree about using a participatory approach. We talked about “community based” approach, but we understand that they share the same principle with the one that you suggested, in which the most important tool consist on involving the community during each stage of the project. Thanks again for this suggestion!

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Presentation Discussion
  • Icon for: Brian Drayton

    Brian Drayton

    May 20, 2013 | 10:34 a.m.

    Sounds like a very valuable study.
    Has anyone actually quantified the cats’ impact upon reptiles and birds in this area?
    I imagine that the biggest challenge will be that of helping different stakeholders find values upon which they can agree, in evaluating the results of your study and other data about cat impacts.
    P.S. I was surprised at the high rate of neutered cats (70% in your sample!). Was that a result of the Save a Gato campaign, or are many of these cats actually owned by residents?

  • May 20, 2013 | 11:10 p.m.

    Thank you Dr. Drayton for your interest on our project and for your comments,
    To date, there are no studies addressing the impact of free-ranging cats on wildlife in Old San Juan, so there is no evidence if free ranging cats are affecting native and endemic species, something that must be address soon, due to the possible impacts on endangered and endemic species such as many lizards and frogs.
    Because our project has been developed while taking classes, we did not had enough time to address this issue during the semester. For this reason, one of the goals of this video and other communication tools that we have developed, is to attract the attention of the scientific community to promote researches on this issue.
    Definitely, the major challenge will be to find a consensus among stakeholders as they have very different opinions about the possible problems associated with these outdoor cats. The perception analysis among residents and non-residents will help us to quantify the social conflict behind free-ranging cats and therefore to provide more effective and feasible solutions.
    Even though Save a Gato (SaG)has been very effective and committed with their program of Trap Neuter and Release (TNR), there are additional reasons for their failure including: lack of funds and full time employees to maintain the program, and dumping cats. In addition to SaG neutering program, there are some residents that also neuter the cats, such as Joey (in the video) that takes care of a colony with 16 free-ranging cats.

  • Icon for: Lee McDavid

    Lee McDavid

    May 21, 2013 | 08:01 a.m.

    Very interesting project. I learned about something I had no idea was a problem. I agree that it seems important to determine the cats’ effect on the local bird population. This may prove to be a critical point in convincing residents to fund a public program.

  • May 21, 2013 | 08:36 a.m.

    Thanks Dr McDavid for your comment. You brought a very good point, local evidence is needed to convince people and to promote a change of behavior! Similarly, we need local studies to support why so many cats in urban areas represent a health risk for humans.

  • May 21, 2013 | 10:04 a.m.

    I think there has been studies in El Yunque National Forest in Northeast Puerto Rico concluding that free-ranging cats do have an impact on the fauna, specially birds. So although there have not been studies in the Metropolitan Area, I must imagine they do have some impact, specially on endemic species. I want to congratulate Jessica Castro and Maria Andrade on their excellent video.

  • May 21, 2013 | 11:36 a.m.

    Thanks Luis!, actually, in Puerto Rico there is another study in the Natural Reserve of Isla de Mona conducted by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, in which they found that cats predated endemic iguanas, boas, birds and hatchlings of sea turtles. Green areas in Old San Juan hosts many species of birds, reptiles and amphibians, so predation on these species is highly probable.

  • Icon for: Margery Hines

    Margery Hines

    May 21, 2013 | 02:44 p.m.

    This is a very interesting issue that I never even considered, and your video communicates the problems very well. As Brian stated, I am surprised about how many of the cats were found to be neutered! Good luck with the rest of your project, I hope your research can lead to an amicable solution for the cats, birds, and people!

  • Icon for: María Andrade-Núñez

    María Andrade-Núñez

    May 21, 2013 | 04:29 p.m.

    Thanks a lot Margery for your comment. Yes, most cats have been neutered by Save a Gato, but also there are many residents that feed and neutered some colonies, such as Joey in the video. We are very motivated with the project, and we believe that social perception and community engagement will be fundamental to find the most suitable solution for free-ranging cats in Old San Juan.

  • Icon for: Andrew Tyre

    Andrew Tyre

    May 21, 2013 | 04:00 p.m.

    Great study! When you say 70% were neutered, you mean 70% were ear tipped from the TNR program I assume? That’s a very high percentage.

    I’m glad to see that mark resight works with cats! I’ve been considering trying that for the feral cat population here in Lincoln. What are the confidence bounds on your population size estimate?

  • Icon for: María Andrade-Núñez

    María Andrade-Núñez

    May 22, 2013 | 11:52 a.m.

    Thanks a lot Dr. Tyre. This 70% of neutered cats is thanks to Save a Gato efforts and also due to the effort of many residents that take care of the cats in their street. Joey, the resident that shows up in the video is an example of that.
    Mark and recapture using photographs worked very well for free-ranging cats in urban areas because many cats can be easily recognized for their fur colors and patterns, others have collars, and because they are feed by people their home ranges seem to be really small (just from our own observations), some cats were observed in the same place during both census! In addition, the fact that some of them are very used to humans, they are very friendly and come as close as your feet! So, in several opportunities we were able to make very detailed drawings of the animals that were then used to support individual’s identification during recaptures. Using the 95% confidence intervals our estimate is ± 21 cats … So we believe the estimate is a good representation of the real population size. However, with feral cats, (actually, what species are you talking about?), this could be less accurate as feral cats have a different behavior, but it may be a good starting point to explore the population. Good luck with your project in Lincoln!

  • Icon for: Andrea Dietrich

    Andrea Dietrich

    May 21, 2013 | 05:22 p.m.

    This is a timely study as control of urban cat populations, as well as suburban populations, are a global issue. There will be much interest in knowing if the spay/neuter program is effective for controlling the population. Have projections been made for the estimated cat population with and without a spay/neuter program? Also, what are the benefits of the urban cats? Are cats effective at rodent control?

    The audio and visual aspects of the presentation were very well done.

  • May 22, 2013 | 12:07 p.m.

    Hello Dr. Dietrich, thanks a lot for your interest and for your questions. We are glad to hear you like the presentation.
    Up to date there is no projections about whether the estimated population size in Old San Juan has been reduced due to the spay/neuter program or without it, because this is the first time that the population size was estimated using a scientific methodology. According to the NGO Save a Gato there is a decline, but we were not able to find any single report that supports their statement. According to the literature, Trap-Neuter and Release is ineffective to control open and semi-wild populations in which cats are feed and care, so they have lower mortality rates than wild populations. However, this method is the most accepted by humans and animal’s right groups, and we think it may succeed together with a communication campaign to prevent dumping.
    Regarding your second question, Save a Gato and other supporters of free-ranging cats state that these cats are necessary to control rats. Nevertheless, there is a lack of evidence to demonstrate if cats are being really effective in controlling rat populations as these cats receive an excessive amount of food daily, so hunting on rats could be less than it is thought. For example, we have observed rats and cats eating in the same feeding station!.

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    May 22, 2013 | 12:14 a.m.

    Very very special!! Congrats, aidamarie

  • May 22, 2013 | 11:54 a.m.

    Thanks a lot Aidamarie … VAMOS LA UPR !!!

  • Icon for: Maritza Barreto

    Maritza Barreto

    May 22, 2013 | 08:07 a.m.

    Congrats!! Excellent study and presentation. It is a very Good example of an interdisciplinary study that could Deal with possible Health and social problems.

  • Icon for: María Andrade-Núñez

    María Andrade-Núñez

    May 22, 2013 | 12:03 p.m.

    Hello Dra. Barreto, thanks a lot for your comments and we are happy you like the presentation.

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    Raimundo Espinoza

    May 22, 2013 | 06:18 p.m.

    A great example of how an apperantly simple issue can have cross cutting impacts. While the wildlife issue is straight forward, cats being one of the top 100 invasives in the world, and as “A global review of the impacts of invasive cats on island endangered vertebrates” from Global Change Biology shows cats are linked to 14 percent of modern bird, amphibian and mammal island extinctions, that we’re aware about. Expanding on the impacts cats in Old San Juan are having on the local public health, city planning, and the residents daily life is truly glaring a light at the chain of consequences that exist. Also, shinning a spot light on the rights of people to feed the cats vs the actual needs that these cats have.

  • May 23, 2013 | 10:09 a.m.

    Hi Raimundo and thanks for your comments! You mentioned a very important point about the invasive characteristics of cats and also the rights that cats in urban areas have. In urban areas the invasive species argument cannot be used in the same way since cats are one of the most ancient domesticated species and they have been human’s pets since 7.000 BC. So, this is why it is a very difficult task to treat them as invasive species and propose to eradicate them, as we do with other invasive species without any kind of compassion such as with roaches or rats. For example, some free-ranging cats in Old San Juan have already been named by their “owners”.

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    cynthia coll

    May 22, 2013 | 07:03 p.m.

    I think you manage to put a lot of information in such a short video. The complexities of this environmental problem are many, and you manage to maintain a rather neutral position waiting for the data to come. Well done!

  • May 23, 2013 | 10:06 a.m.

    Thanks professor!! We really appreciate your comments and class discussions.

  • May 22, 2013 | 09:46 p.m.

    Well done guys. You really managed to convey that this is a true social-ecological conflict with more complexities than one would imaginge at first. Good job.

  • May 23, 2013 | 10:12 a.m.

    Hi Dr. Melendez and thanks a lot for your comments!, we are really happy that you like the video.

  • May 23, 2013 | 09:34 a.m.

    I believe you would be interested in Dr. Julie Levy’s work on the impacts of trap-neuter-return in Florida. There are several publications available of long-term TNR projects through her research group at the University of Florida.

  • May 23, 2013 | 10:18 a.m.

    Thanks for your suggestion!, definitely we are going to take it into account.

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    lissett castro

    May 24, 2013 | 12:02 a.m.

    congrats !!!

  • May 24, 2013 | 06:27 a.m.

    thanks sister!

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    May 24, 2013 | 04:42 p.m.

    Congratulation ladies!!!!! you two make a very good team!!!! do not hesitate on your work!!!! all the best from your Uruguay!!!!!

  • May 24, 2013 | 05:16 p.m.

    gracias Lula!!, creo que ya podremos continuar con nuestra rutina.

  • Icon for: María Andrade-Núñez

    María Andrade-Núñez

    May 24, 2013 | 10:23 p.m.

    pero que hermanas que tenemos !!! GRACIAS BELLEZAS :)

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