Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Keys Controversy
A program designed to protect rabbits in the lower Keys is raising alarm among some animal activists. That's because while the rabbits are being saved, other animals are being killed. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- There's something magical about being able to see wild deer in the lower Keys. They're protected in the National Key Deer Refuge, most of which is in Big Pine and no-name Keys. But they're not the only endangered species here.
The population of Marsh rabbits has declined so much that only about 100 are believed to survive in the 80,000-acre refuge.
Anne Morkill: "The recovery of the lower keys Marsh rabbit is, right now, I feel, the highest priority for us on the refuge because it is in such a dire situation."
After heated debate, refuge manager Anne Morkill started a program to trap stray cats that can kill Marsh rabbits.
Only a few cats were caught, but lots of raccoons ended up in the traps and some were destroyed.
Nancy Chatelaine: "It doesn't make sense. So they can't catch cats, so they kill the raccoons?"
The decision to kill raccoons that were accidentally trapped was never publicly debated.
Anne Morkill: "That's probably true. We didn't go through a public process each step of the way."
Christine Scott: "When I asked, I was told by one of their people, 'Oh, they're releasing them.' Next thing I hear is the report came out that they're killing them."
Christine Scott rescues raccoons and says she had agreed to take in and relocate any accidentally trapped in the cat hunt, but not one was turned over to her.
There is also concern mother raccoons are among those being caught and killed.
Karen Dettmann: "If you trap a nursing mother, these are the babies that are left to die, and it's a horrible death. A starvation death is horrible."
Nancy and Richard Chatelaine raise, rehabilitate and release wildlife.
They named this one Piney for Big Pine Key.
Nancy Chatelaine: "I know that she was found orphaned in the woods, and it was right about the time they started trapping."
They want the raccoon trapping stopped and public debate started.
Richard Chatelaine: "So we can discuss this and just stop the killing and that money they have they could spend it doing something else."
And they're not the only ones asking questions.
Christine Scott: "They won't tell us what they've trapped. They won't tell us how many they've trapped. They won't tell us anything we ask. They won't even tell us how they're killing them."
I got some answers.
Thirteen cats were caught and sent to a shelter.
Eighty-one raccoons were trapped.
Of those 53 were released, but 28 were euthanized, and I could not find out how.
Carmel Cafiero: "I heard that they were shot."
Anne Morkill: "I don't know to tell you the truth. I can't answer that question."
Carmel Cafiero: "Shouldn't you know that?"
Anne Morkill: "I don't necessarily micromanage the project itself."
Anne Morkill says the trapping is being done under a contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and she trusts its expertise.
The USDA also refused to tell us how the raccoons are being killed.
Carmel Cafiero: "Why would you ever have to shoot them, I wonder."
Anne Morkill: "I don't know. It may be that it's the most humane method. Shooting can sometimes, is often, a very humane way of putting down an animal."
Carmel Cafiero: "There's no trapping at the moment, but it will resume shortly and run through the first of the year. Animal activists say they will do all that they can to stop that from happening. Clearly this keys controversy is far from over."
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: