Case Studies

Trapping Tips – Night Work

Many feral cats sleep during the daytime, emerging at night to go hunting and scavenging. Unless they are living in back gardens and are used to people who feed them regularly, they keep away from humans and their activities. Some nocturnal feral cats living in built up areas are lucky if they have nocturnal feeders; those kind people who come out late at night, when it is quiet, quickly put food down in the street and disappear, trying not to be noticed by yobs and muggers.

If we are trapping at night and hiding in a car waiting for the cats to appear, we might attract the attention of the public. It is therefore advisable to only trap in pairs, with a mobile phone at the ready, and inform the police well in advance of our location so that they can keep an eye on us from time to time and explain to concerned members of the public who may report our “suspicious” behaviour.

As we have explained in previous articles about trapping, we have to be a step ahead of the cat if we want to succeed; we have to be able to see the cat without it seeing us. How well can a cat see at night? Although their eyesight is probably much superior to other animals who do not have “cats’ eyes”, it appears to me that they are primarily led by their hearing when they follow the rustling sound of a rodent in the undergrowth and only seem to see it when it moves. Sitting completely still and quiet in a car should be sufficient provided our bodies, and most importantly our faces, are not lit by the street lighting which is so useful for seeing the trap. To prevent the cats from seeing us we can lay two black rubber car mats on the outside of the windscreen. If we are trapping in an unlit area or back garden, a strong torch is the answer, provided it does not move at all. It can be resting on the ground or on a wall, be tied to a fence or sturdy shrub, shone out of the window of a dark room or placed on the bonnet of a car (use a rubber or sponge mat to keep it from slipping).

Relying on the scarce light reflected from the sky can be a tall order if we need to trap an adult cat with a manual trap. Because we cannot see enough detail, once the cat has entered the trap, the inside suddenly becomes one dark blob, yet I had to do it some twenty five years ago in order to trap Bourneville, the all important last female of a colony of feral cats, living in a derelict building by the railway line in London’s Earls Court. Without neutering Bourneville, the colony would have grown again after I had neutered some fifteen cats and rehomed twenty kittens!

I had nowhere to hide and stood only three yards from the trap in the shadow against a dark wall. Six or seven cats came right up to me and sniffed my legs and feet. I stood frozen to the spot and controlled my breathing to avoid any noise or movement of my ribcage. Then, the cats sat around my feet and washed themselves. I was accepted as an “object” but still dared not move an inch. So close up, I could clearly identify Bourneville, the only cat left without an ear tip, and did not take my eyes off her as she approached the trap and was caught. If Bourneville had been the only cat present, she could easily have been caught with an automatic trap.

Photo with kind permission of Briony Edwards


Trapping Tip:


If we attach a sheet of white paper to the outside of the trap’s door, we can tell, even without binoculars, when it is shut. If we have to trap kittens in the dark, the lack of visibility can be compensated for by lining the bottom of the trap with a sheet white paper. This silhouettes the little body once the kitten is inside.

I shall never forget the night when I had to trap an orphaned tabby feral kitten who was as quick and elusive as a weasel. I saw him first in the afternoon and returned at night with my white cat basket with a string attached and sat motionless in a bush. After some five hours the little creature went inside and ate. Excited, I pulled the string and was surprised that he did not panic… I had caught a hedgehog, who quietly finished eating his fill before he finally had enough and left. Soon after, I managed to trap the kitten, who, after initial health problems went to an excellent home. Called Peter Buttons he lived a very long life and I was glad to see him again some twenty years later when his owners needed help with medicating the old gentlemen.

© Elke de Vries – CAT 77 Fieldwork Advisor

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