Although the extermination of feral cat colonies is generally done for human convenience, there are times when individual trappers and animal welfare societies may undertake such a task to prevent suffering. Any attempts to solve the problem by trapping and removing the cats are mostly unsuccessful, largely because their presence in an area indicates an ecological niche for that number of cats. As long as the food source that attracted them in the first place remains, it is virtually impossible to prevent newcomers from arriving. The permanent removal of all the cats thus creates a vacuum that will soon be filled by migrating and abandoned (mostly unsterilised) cats. The repeated influx of new, breeding cats into a colony increases territorial and hierarchical fighting – the very behavioural patterns for which feral cats are labeled a nuisance. Conversely, if population numbers could be stabilised (by having them sterilised and by feeding them), the influx of new cats could be reduced, territorial behaviour within a colony would discourage migration into the colony from outside. The result is quieter, healthier cats, who are more acceptable to humans. Any programme aimed at managing feral cats also needs to monitor the dumping of cats in the area.
The bottom line is that as long as the food source remains, new cats will continue to arrive. Removing food sources such as edible refuse, prey species and handouts from cat lovers is mostly impractical and impossible to do. There is only one solution that is both effective and humane, but it requires serious commitment. By sterilising and maintaining a colony of feral cats on a given site, you will not only ensure that numbers are kept down and the cats die off naturally. But, they will earn their keep and ensure that the area remains rat free in return.
Trap-neuter-return (TNR) methods have been successfully used in many countries, including England, Denmark, the USA and South Africa for decades. These programmes are aimed at reducing the number of cats on site in order to create a smaller, stable and controlled population. Inevitably a colony will contain cats that are terminally ill, injured or very old and are thus unable to cope and for these cats, euthanasia is often the kindest option. Without intervention, feral cats will not only breed prolifically adding to the overwhelming pet overpopulation problem facing the country, but will lead lives filled with danger, disease, discomfort, hunger and fear. Suffering can only be countered with action.