State suspends hunt for Maui cat
By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau
OLINDA, Maui The hunt for Maui's mystery cat has been put on hold until new credible sightings are reported, state wildlife officials said yesterday.
The move to disengage 19 foot-hold snare traps on Thursday follows three weeks without sightings in the 20 square miles where the big cat is believed to be roaming.
Peter T. Young, chairman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, said the decision was made in part because of the "large investment of manpower" required to check the traps.
The department spent $3,000 a week monitoring the traps, said spokeswoman Deborah Ward. Workers from the Maui Invasive Species Committee, state Department of Agriculture and National Park Service were helping out, she said.
When the traps were installed three weeks ago, state wildlife biologist Fern Duvall estimated the cat hunt had cost the state about $15,000.
Young offered three possible reasons for the lack of sightings:
The animal has moved from its previous haunts to a place less populated.
It has returned to an owner and is being confined.
It is dead.
"We recognize that the size and complexity of the terrain is such that the cat could easily remain undetected," Young said.
He said the department is prepared to act if credible evidence emerges.
"That is why we are just disengaging the snares rather than removing them completely. The snare area is within private land, and there is no public access."
Stan Cunningham, the Arizona Fish and Game Department research biologist who helped set the snares and train state workers last month, could not be reached for comment. Previously, he said capture could take a couple of months.
Susan Wachter of Olinda, who saw the cat in January, said she was disappointed.
"I can't imagine it costing them that much," she said. "Instead of taking (the traps) all down, why couldn't they have left maybe four of them?"
Wachter acknowledged Olinda had been quiet and the cat situation had been "very frustrating" for the community.
"We were wondering if somebody shot it and took if off the island," she said.
The last official cat report was Oct. 28, when an Olinda resident said the animal was heard in the night.
As for the traps, the only thing caught was a mixed-breed dog that gave birth in the trap. Other traps have been set off, probably by nontarget animals that got away as intended, Ward said.
The state asks that Olinda residents promptly report sightings, sounds or confidential information relating to the cat's whereabouts. Timely, detailed and credible reports are valuable, officials said, because they provide clues about the cat's movements.