Ten million cats free, sterile or dead

Ten million cats free, sterile or dead

A street cat, member of a colony that lives in an abandoned house, in Madrid. / Paul Cobos

Scientists warn that a national law that protects these felines threatens birds and reptiles, but their protectors defend wild colonies

Domenico Chiappe

The possibility that wild cats will have special protection, as proposed in the draft Animal Welfare bill, confronts scientists and animalists, especially those who are dedicated to feeding these small cats in Spanish parks and alleys . The point is that the cat manages to adapt to any environment if it is abandoned or escapes. They are magnificent hunters, have a high reproduction rate and lack predators, with few exceptions. Scientific evidence shows that cats -both those that have owners but usually spend hours outside, as well as feral cats- represent a threat to other species.

The biologists' warnings are forceful. "The predation of domestic cats is the most important cause of death of small mammals and birds," quote the Spanish scientists Martina Carrete and Miguel Clavero, in an article published when learning about the parliamentary initiative. The species 'Felis catus' kills between 100 million and 350 million birds each year in Canada; in Australia it is 377 million; in the United States, up to 4,000 million, according to the scientific article 'Domestic cats and their impacts on biodiversity', by the specialist in environmental laws of the University of Tilburg (Netherlands) Arie Trouwborst, published two years ago. In Spain, there are no data or sufficient studies. But it is estimated that there are 10 million cats in fields, parks and cities, according to SEO BirdLife.

If the birds are threatened, the reptiles bear the brunt. Cats kill twice as many of these creatures each year. "There is plenty of evidence of the serious impact they have in the Canary Islands, for example, where they threaten the giant lizard," says Miguel Clavero, a researcher at the Doñana Biological Station and the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC). The 'pussies' also affect protected mammals, such as the lynx.

"In Doñana, feline leukemia, which is transmitted by cats, was about to wipe out the lynx population," says Clavero. “The males attacked them to defend their territory and they got infected. It is a documented case because intensive monitoring is done there. But there will be other unnoticed cases.”

France, Poland, the United Kingdom or Belgium are other countries that have carried out studies on the impact of loose cats. In the Polish countryside, it was estimated that 136 million birds and three times as many mammals a year suffer from its deadly attacks. Domestic cats, for their part, take home a monthly average of three dead animals, indicates the British report 'Wildlife predated by the domestic cat'.

animal reaction

Despite the feathers scattered at dawn in the areas where cat colonies are established, the reality of their impact on ecosystems had not generated debate in Spain until now. With specific legislation in some autonomies, the possible entry of a national law to protect cats that go free (acquiring a legal status different from that of the dog) provoked the reaction of scientists. And theirs stirred up the animalists.

"We are concerned about all the alert that has been generated by biologists," says Eva Aznar, head of La Gatoteca, one of the associations that fight for "the rescue and reintegration" of abandoned cats. «Those of us who care for urban cats are not happy that they are distributed by colonies, nor that they have to live poorly at risk of diseases or accidents. But that already exists."

The proposal of the defenders of free-roaming cats is based on regulating the problem "in an ethical and functional way", says Aznar, whose association is preparing the campaign 'Don't touch my cats'. “We are extremely concerned about the rejection of a draft that values ​​that the best method at the national level is to catch, sterilize and return the animal. The goal is to reduce the feline population, dying of old age.

forced relocations

The cat protectors also denounce that "more cases of poisoning are being seen" and "avalanches of puppies," warns Aznar, who calculates that in the city where he lives, Madrid, there are about 1,500 colonies. "The colonies are spoken of as if they had a natural entity, but in reality they are feeding points, created by a person who brings them food," refutes Clavero. "Cats never live in colonies. It is the provision of food that maintains the social group.

Cat advocates downplay the danger of these animals. "They may hunt you down some animal, but it is not their greatest claim," says Aznar, to which the scientists reply. “Cats are extraordinary hunters and, even if we feed them, it has been shown that they hunt many animals by instinct. We are talking about millions of birds, mammals and reptiles in Spain”, says Juan Carlos Atienza, head of Environmental Governance at SEO BirdLife. “We are not against cats, but they have to remain inside their owners' homes, identified and sterilized. We are not talking about slaughtering, but about acting with guarantees of animal welfare.

But reality prevails, also resources. "It is clear that 10 million cats cannot be managed and each city council will have to have a plan to reduce these populations, in which they even assess the speed with which they have to act," says Atienza. “It is very important that there are no cats in the habitats of protected or endemic species.”

The CSIC scientist is also skeptical about the content of the law: «To ensure that there are no cats on the loose, in some cases the capture, sterilization and release could work, but it represents a huge investment in a very large geographical area and it is not clear. that it is viable”, says Clavero.

Against this position, the opposite: "I know towns and rural areas where all this is perfectly managed," says Aznar. “It is better to have control of the population with a person in charge. In addition, nature also knows how to do its job.

The draft law of the controversy still has a long way to go. In the last known draft, the comments on the control of cat populations proposed by scientists had not been included. Then it will return to the Council of Ministers. "We trust that we have a very sensible position," says Atienza.

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