Feral Cats

Throughout the world there are conflicting views on feral cats, and although they are mostly considered to be a nuisance, there are some places where they are seen as an asset because of their ability to control vermin. Regardless of how we view them, feral cats are a reality in many urban and rural areas and will continue to exist as long as we humans “renege on our contract with the cat”.

Many institutions and businesses such as universities, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and holiday resorts experience an ongoing problem with unwanted populations of feral cats. Feral cats also occupy factory sites, dockyards, public parks and shopping centres. These cats are often regarded as a nuisance because of noisy courting, territorial behaviour, prolific breeding, and urine spraying by toms. Their ubiquitous existence is a result of the current pet population crisis, which is the root of the problem – everything else is symptomatic.

Marion Island is often cited as an example of a “successful” feral cat removal programme. However, what is not often mentioned is that it took almost twenty long years of using cruel and brutal methods (from deliberately infecting the cats with feline enteritis, to using terrier dogs to flush them out, to exterminating by hunting and finally poisoning) to finally eliminate the approximately 2500 cats inhabiting this small and extremely isolated island. The problem is when the cats are removed, rodents (who feast on birds and their eggs) thrive and it is far more difficult to eliminate them using the above methods.

More recently, the feral cats living on Robben Island were targeted for removal by conservation authorities and ornithologists from UCT. The Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG), a local animal group persuaded them to allow them to trap the cats and relocate the majority to the organisation’s “Cat Park” in Hout Bay. It was decided that a colony of twelve would be sterilised and released back onto the island to prevent a rodent infestation, but minds were changed so that in the end the cats were shot. The next concern is without feline predators what to do about the increased growth in the rodent population, which also threatens seabird chicks.