Anyone dealt with all/largely black cat colonies?

moxiewild

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Hey everyone. Feeling overwhelmed and unsure how to deal with this.

Since January, I have been slowly TNRing a colony of 25+ cats about an hour away from me.

All but one of the cats is black, so we don’t actually know how many there are. It’s impossible to count.

We’ve also pulled a total of 16 black kittens from there for adoption + two Siamese looking kittens (from the one non-black cat). I currently still have 5 mini panthers running around the house I have yet to find homes for.

Every single time we think we’ve fixed all of them, someone inevitably gives birth.

And everyone is very feral, so ear tips are difficult to see.

Meanwhile, I have a similar problem at my house and in my neighborhood.

A black cat showed up at the colony at our house about a year ago. We fixed him quickly.

All of the cats are very feral here too and we only see them through cameras, and sometimes through windows.

So it took us a while - who knows how long - to realize that there was more than one black cat. We had him fixed too.

And then it happened again and again. Our cameras are pretty clear, but not clear enough to see the ears without just the right proximity, lighting, and angle.

We’d also heard of a black female and two black kittens somewhere in the neighborhood in winter, but could never find them. I’ve been frustrated that none of the black cats we’ve TNR’d have been female, as I knew there was at least one.

Well, last week an older (~6 months), mostly black kitten showed up a few times. Just a few small white markings, not a typical “tuxedo”.

And earlier in the week, my boyfriend and I were going for a run in our neighborhood very late at night and we came across an adult black cat, an older all black kitten (4+ months, maybe), and an orange and white cat hanging out together. They scattered pretty quickly.

On our way back to the house, another adult black cat ran across the street.

He disappeared under a fence and we went to see the house number and see if maybe there was a place we could set up traps, just in case.

We noticed a break/separation between some fencing close by and slipped through since it obviously wasn’t anyone’s yard, and it brought us to a wooded area.

I immediately said to my boyfriend “there’s gotta be cats over here” and as soon as I said it and moved my flashlight, two small kittens (maybe 5-8 weeks?) jumped up onto a tree before running away. One grey and white, the other - all black.

Then last night, I checked the cameras, and what do you know - a black cat that’s very obviously pregnant!!!

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with all these black cats and being unable to tell them apart and keep track of our progress. It feels impossible to know if we’re done or even close to done.

And it feels like I’m failing to stabilize these two colonies because of it.

I’m just at a loss of how to get this under control. It’s become so extremely evident this week that the problem is much worse than we thought.

It just feels more defeating than normal, I suppose. We feel so left in the dark about where we are and how much more we have to go and how to even tell when we’re finished and can finally transition into maintenance mode. It ends up feeling never ending, and that’s really starting to take its toll.

If anyone has any advice or simply encouragement, I could really use it right now.
 

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I assume that ferals there get ear tipped after Spay/neuter? I would explain it to the vet and work out a subtle tipping process. Some slit to the right, slit to the left, straight down, tip of ear etc. . For right now they are at different life stages so pregnant, little kitten, big male, young male. How fast can you grab?
There is also the possibility of keeping some to socialize for adoption which takes them out of the equation. One fixed, most cats dochange tgeir pirrsknality a little. Can you work with them enough to get some contact? Fixed cats that feel safe will stay near and lounge more. Unfixed cats are off and running at mating time.
I strongly suggest getting good photos of each one. Sometimes there are subtle differences in things like whisker coloring that you won’t notice when they are on the run. Perhaps a few white hairs on chest or chin. Of course having a microchip keeps them known to the vet through chip reader but that still leaves you with possible results trapping issues. Fortunately, most cats once trapped, are not quick to fall for that again. No guarantees but it can help in this case.
 
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moxiewild

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Hi! I've read about trying to use neon highlighter, but these are ferals... Jcatbird Jcatbird do you have any ideas?
We do something similar at my work with litters of baby squirrels, opossums, raccoons, etc! We use animal safe nail polish on their ears.

I wish we could do something like that on these guys that was permanent and easily visible!
 
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moxiewild

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I assume that ferals there get ear tipped after Spay/neuter? I would explain it to the vet and work out a subtle tipping process. Some slit to the right, slit to the left, straight down, tip of ear etc. .
You know, that was the very first thing I asked at the clinic!

They won’t do it though, and honestly, I understand their reasoning. It’s safer for the cats if they all have the “universal signal” for TNR that vets/shelters/people are familiar with.

For right now they are at different life stages so pregnant, little kitten, big male, young male. How fast can you grab?
These guys are very feral right now, so no grabbing. While they’re not there yet, I’m confident the black cat colony will eventually warm up to us, which will make things a lot easier when we can clearly see ear tips!

The sheer volume of black cats and inbreeding at the black cat colony in particular means there is not a lot of variation. We take pictures, but any slight variation that we’ve seen, 3+ other cats also have (and, as you mentioned, the slight differences are virtually impossible to notice when they’re on the run).

We just never know who we’re looking at or their TNR status.

Like I said, I know the black cat colony will get there eventually.

But the colony at my house is a different story. I’ve talked about this on here before.

They’re pretty impossible to make any contact with, which is why we have cameras set out everywhere to monitor health and newcomers so we can quickly TNR.

And the cameras have been extremely effective for us here - only one kitten among our cats in 3 years!

But the cameras obviously don’t help as much when it comes to the black cats.

We only realized three of the black males were new/different because our cameras eventually showed that they were very much in tact.

We don’t get the... uh... “ball angle” 😂 on the cameras frequently either, so who knows if or how many females have/do pass through our feeding stations that we’ve missed.

Our failure to differentiate the black cats means we’ve allowed them to be able to reproduce for untold months.

As for taking cats out of the equation via adoption, I’m out of room/resources. Honestly, I’ll be lucky if I can find fosters or a rescue for the two young kittens. I have no idea what the heck we’re going to do with them once we trap them.

Oddly enough, I think the traps have been around consistently for so long now (both set and zip tied open) that even some of the cats we’ve already TNR’d have retrapped themselves!!!

Of course that never happens when I actually want it to happen, though! 😂

At this point, I’m more concerned about the cats in my neighborhood.

The black cat colony is on a fenced in construction site and they are accepted by both the property owner and construction manager and crew. Plus, it’s in a city with an official TNR program that we had registered with the caretaker.

My neighborhood has an HOA, though, and local ordinances are... ambiguous, at best.

I usually only set traps when I see someone new, but the black cats are making that strategy difficult and unfixed cats are slipping through the cracks and reproducing as a result.

I need to keep the neighborhood population under control so that the cats can stay under the radar. Otherwise, all it will take is just one call to the HOA or animal control :/
 

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I feel for you, as our shelter (in Germany) has had the same problem with colonies of feral cats where roughly 50% (rare, and the other half were almost all grey tabbies!) to about 98% were black. Black is also predominant among tame cats in the area. :dunno:

We didn't find a good way to distinguish them, and ear tipping just isn't done here. What we have ended up doing is trapping, neutering and chipping an entire colony over a period of weeks or months, but not releasing the cats until we were fairly certain that we'd gotten most of them. Then they were released en masse. Some were socialized and adopted out.

That's only feasible if you have someplace to hold and care for them. Our shelter has room for 30-40 on the premises, but it's a tight squeeze. I don't suppose you have access to an empty barn or warehouse to house them temporarily?
 

gilmargl

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I feel for you, as our shelter (in Germany) has had the same problem with colonies of feral cats where roughly 50% (rare, and the other half were almost all grey tabbies!) to about 98% were black. Black is also predominant among tame cats in the area. :dunno:

We didn't find a good way to distinguish them, and ear tipping just isn't done here. What we have ended up doing is trapping, neutering and chipping an entire colony over a period of weeks or months, but not releasing the cats until we were fairly certain that we'd gotten most of them. Then they were released en masse. Some were socialized and adopted out.

That's only feasible if you have someplace to hold and care for them. Our shelter has room for 30-40 on the premises, but it's a tight squeeze. I don't suppose you have access to an empty barn or warehouse to house them temporarily?
I am also in Germany and the vets we use for ferals still do ear tipping when necessary. Last time,when I was directly involved,it was with a relatively small group of ferals and strays, perhaps 20 adult cats, 90% black, who were being fed by an old man, with dementia. Some of the cats would enter his house but most of them were feral, and remained unseen.

We are not a shelter, cats are fostered out to people like me till they can be rehomed. The member of our animal protection group, who took on responsibility for the old man and "his" cats, did (and is still doing) a grand job. When she started trapping mothers and kittens, it was chaos! Trying to get a mother cat with her own kittens was impossible. I had a cellar full of black females, recovering from their OPs, and a load of aggresive black kittens! We managed to sort the kittens according to age and tamed the younger ones who were rehomed. The rest were neutered, ear tipped and returned to the old man who knew some of his cats and was overjoyed when we returned one of his favourite females. At the time, we didn't have sufficient funds for chipping ferals, and putting a tatoo on a black cat's ear is useless.

Fortunately, the colony is now only 8 or 10 cats (we still cannot be sure of the exact number) and there have been no more kittens. The landowner who had been threatening to evict the old man because his cats were a nuisance is quiet. My friend is still checking on the old man and his cats twice a day and leaving cat food so that he can spend his money on food for himself and not on his beloved cats. Every now and again a new cat will turn up. Usually, it is a stray who has lost its home and can easily be rehomed, sometimes it isn't but the colony isn't growing. Thank goodness!
 
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moxiewild

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I feel for you, as our shelter (in Germany) has had the same problem with colonies of feral cats where roughly 50% (rare, and the other half were almost all grey tabbies!) to about 98% were black. Black is also predominant among tame cats in the area. :dunno:

We didn't find a good way to distinguish them, and ear tipping just isn't done here. What we have ended up doing is trapping, neutering and chipping an entire colony over a period of weeks or months, but not releasing the cats until we were fairly certain that we'd gotten most of them. Then they were released en masse. Some were socialized and adopted out.

That's only feasible if you have someplace to hold and care for them. Our shelter has room for 30-40 on the premises, but it's a tight squeeze. I don't suppose you have access to an empty barn or warehouse to house them temporarily?
Oh man, that would be such a great solution!

Wish i’d thought of that early on, there’s a small chance we might have been able to work something out with the black cat colony.

I’m not sure how much it would help at this point anymore though... we’ve already done 25 adults. We could be done, or have 20 more to go for all we know!

And it definitely wouldn’t work for my neighborhood cats. In part because I wasn’t realizing there were more and more black cats, and secondly because they seem spread out all over the neighborhood and aren’t a “colony”, so I’m not sure how I’d ever know when we were done or where all to even set traps.

I can’t even imagine if I didn’t at least have the hope of ear tips to rely on! How silly that they won’t do that.

We are chipping them, though. We chip all our ferals on the off chance that they’re picked up at by Animal Control or a rescue/shelter and scanned so that they might be returned or released where found instead of euthanized.

I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who has run into this problem, though! It presents such unique challenges and I’ve never heard of having more than 3 identical cats in a colony before, so I was feeling kind of out of my mind.
 
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moxiewild

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I am also in Germany and the vets we use for ferals still do ear tipping when necessary. Last time,when I was directly involved,it was with a relatively small group of ferals and strays, perhaps 20 adult cats, 90% black, who were being fed by an old man, with dementia. Some of the cats would enter his house but most of them were feral, and remained unseen.

We are not a shelter, cats are fostered out to people like me till they can be rehomed. The member of our animal protection group, who took on responsibility for the old man and "his" cats, did (and is still doing) a grand job. When she started trapping mothers and kittens, it was chaos! Trying to get a mother cat with her own kittens was impossible. I had a cellar full of black females, recovering from their OPs, and a load of aggresive black kittens! We managed to sort the kittens according to age and tamed the younger ones who were rehomed. The rest were neutered, ear tipped and returned to the old man who knew some of his cats and was overjoyed when we returned one of his favourite females. At the time, we didn't have sufficient funds for chipping ferals, and putting a tatoo on a black cat's ear is useless.

Fortunately, the colony is now only 8 or 10 cats (we still cannot be sure of the exact number) and there have been no more kittens. The landowner who had been threatening to evict the old man because his cats were a nuisance is quiet. My friend is still checking on the old man and his cats twice a day and leaving cat food so that he can spend his money on food for himself and not on his beloved cats. Every now and again a new cat will turn up. Usually, it is a stray who has lost its home and can easily be rehomed, sometimes it isn't but the colony isn't growing. Thank goodness!
Did y’all do the same thing as jcat? Hold all of them until all had been trapped so you knew you got everyone?

It sounds like they might have been more in the friendly side though, so as long as they can be ear tipped, I’m sure that helped!
 

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Did y’all do the same thing as jcat? Hold all of them until all had been trapped so you knew you got everyone?

It sounds like they might have been more in the friendly side though, so as long as they can be ear tipped, I’m sure that helped!
No way! We have no buildings where we can keep animals - we have to rely on private people willing to give up space in their own homes. It was a difficult time for everyone - three of us had the kittens, mother cats were only held for a couple of days, males were neutered and released almost immediately. We were stressed out through lack of space (the reason for some of the kittens being too old was that we had no-one willing or able to take them any sooner). It was the holiday period - I suddenly received a delivery of 5 half-tamed kittens, plus a huge cat-tree, which the cat-lady concerned insisted had been part of their training. She was going on holiday, I was due to visit my mother in England. My daughter had to catch my quota of still-wild kitties living in the cellar to take them to be neutered. The vet gave her a good telling-off because she'd brought them to the surgery in a normal pet carrier - and not a vet-friendly trap! She insisted she was the substitute for the substitute cat carer and they ended up on friendly terms. These kittens were released (which I still regret to-day, although I am told that they are really happy and it's lovely to watch these semi-feral males playing in the field). The 5 survived falling off the cat tree - how many times? – before they found new homes.

Two or three of the cats probably belonged to the old man and his wife in the first place. He was never very coherent about his past. Before we started the operation, we slowly moved the feeding ground closer to the man's house, until there was less danger of the farmer shooting them. The whole operation, trapping and neutering, lasted two seasons. Of course, the traps often caught an already neutered animal but that's life. There are no traps on the premises now - we need them elsewhere! The next problem will be when the cats get old and sick and trapping will have to start again. We are lucky that my friend lives nearby. She could monitor the traps regularly and continues to observe the cats.
 

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I am also in Germany and the vets we use for ferals still do ear tipping when necessary.
A lot must depend on the state (just like the current Covid-19 rules do); we're in B-W. They used to tattoo the ferals' ears here when they neutered them, but it wasn't much help, especially when the cats were black. Even if they were in a trap you normally couldn't see their ear flaps. At least you can check a trapped cat for a microchip. Most area vets won't even look at a feral that's not in a squeeze cage, though a few will accept them trap and all and transfer them to a squeeze cage while they're still knocked out from the OP.
 
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moxiewild

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Update -

So right after we had found these two new sets of cats, we had gone back to leave food and water.

For the first 2-3 nights, we left food, hoping they’d stick around and learn to associate that area with it, and the last two days, we switched to feeding in the mornings.

The food has been gone regularly, so we put out trail cams at both locations and checked them this morning.

In the woods where we found the two young kittens, an adult black cat showed up.

We couldn’t tell if it was ear tipped or not. In the middle of the night, another black cat (probably the same one) came again and drank some water.

No sign of kittens, though :(

On the other side of the neighborhood (where the adult black cat, older black kitten, and orange and white cat were), the cats were in a cul-de-sac, and lucky for us, this cul-de-sac just happened to have a concrete drainage ditch between four sets of houses. Half way down, there are two patches of grass on either side that are perfect for discreetly leaving food. (We got real lucky there!).

Our cameras picked up a lot more activity here, but not until night time (which means the video is in black and white, so we can’t distinguish colors, unfortunately).

A tabby of some sort came to eat first. We were able to confirm that this cat at least was not an intact male - so either female or neutered male with the sacs removed.

Next cat was a black cat - looked like an adult. Couldn’t see ears well enough.

Then a collared cat came, and a black cat was with him, but it wasn’t clear if they came together or not, or whether the black cat was the same one as before.

Then 20 minutes before we got there this morning, a beautiful tortie girl came and checked out the camera.

So lots of activity going on there!

We’re going to try and figure out a way to target trap Momma tonight, but doing so is going to be a huge challenge and headache. I’m very concerned that we’re not going to be able to get her in time, but we’ll see.
 
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