Last February, the Council of Ministers approved the Preliminary Project for the Animal Protection, Rights and Welfare Law. This law dedicates two extensive chapters to establish the legal framework for the treatment of feline colonies, forcing their ethical management. It guides the public authorities towards their capture, sterilization and the return or relocation of the cats that make them up (known as the CER method and the CES method, respectively).
This draft bill has generated claims from very different groups, including many of the scientists who work in conservation, who think that the new law should not protect stray cats due to the threat they pose to biodiversity. In fact, they propose that it be expressly prohibited to feed and care for these cats, and urge that they be eradicated from all public spaces.
However, there are many scientists who propose just the opposite. Cats must be protected by law. Of course, to guarantee animal welfare. But also because only in this way can the population of homeless cats be reduced, and it will also help conserve biodiversity.
More than 9,000 years of coexistence and mutual interest guarantee our relationship with cats. The synergy is perfect. Human activity provides cats with resources to survive and the predatory efficiency of this small feline is very convenient for us, since they keep annoying pests at bay.
Today, its popularity is such that there are about 4 million cats in Spanish homes. sadly too in Spain about 120,000 end up abandoned on the streets every year. Most die. Those that survive usually join other cats in groups, reproduce uncontrollably and… the problems begin!
These street cats have to find food, both for themselves and for their numerous offspring. They get it from garbage, but also from hunting. Their prey is usually rodents, but also wildlife, which can pose a threat to the conservation of some species. Added to this are many other problems and annoyances, such as droppings and dirt, marking, noise, parasites, diseases, etc. In other words, these abandoned cats end up living poorly on the streets. This causes many people to take pity on them and provide them with food and care.
Why doesn’t eradication work?
Practically all eradication attempts that have been made have failed. In populated areas it does not work. It is in sight. There are more and more cats on the streets.
The void effect explains much of this failure. When cats are removed from a place where they obtain resources to survive, new cats quickly occupy the space that is free.
Even devoting the greatest efforts, it is practically impossible to remove all cats from a region. So those that remain will reproduce quickly and more successfully, the litters will have higher survival rates and will recolonize the spaces. In fact, it almost always ends up even causing a rebound effect.
We cannot forget that the high rate of abandonment constantly feeds the streets with new cats, forcing the cycles of withdrawal to be perpetuated forever.
Also, these eradication programs are very expensive. But the great social rejection generated by these actions is also very important. Many people consider them unacceptable. For all this, the programs that are started are rarely maintained in the long term, so failure is guaranteed.
Protect cats to solve the problem
The only way to prevent the empty effect is to allow cats to continue living on the streets. The new law comes to improve their well-being, but also to order how the coexistence between cats, humans and biodiversity should be.
To start with, rwill regulate the way of caring for these animals. This is something that many well-intentioned people already do informally. They devote their own resources and time to caring for stray cats, although not always in the best way or in the most suitable places. Let’s face it, banning them from being fed is not an option. In many municipalities it is currently prohibited. Does not matter. Many neighbors see the cats having a hard time on a daily basis, take pity on them and take care of them, albeit surreptitiously.
The new law will force the municipalities to regulate this matter. Currently, very few municipalities have management plans for feral cat colonies. Barely 20%. Most just do nothing. Thus, by inaction, the problem only grows.
The new municipal obligations will include the education and training of the people in charge of caring for the neighborhoods. It is about knowing how to feed, clean and provide care in the most appropriate way. The most recent studies indicate that, by providing adequate food and environmental enrichment, the predatory activity of colony cats decreases significantly.
It will also be required to ethical colony managementusing the method CER (capture, sterilize and return). But not only is it urged to capture and sterilize, but adoption programs for kittens and more sociable cats (such as recently abandoned ones) will be encouraged, thus removing a good number of animals from the streets.
Unlike eradication programs, the CER method has a very high degree of social acceptance. This will result in the involvement of volunteers. It is counted on, since many people already do it, in a precarious way, with hardly any help from public administrations. This will significantly reduce the amount of public resources that must be allocated. Laws not only have to tend to solve problems, but also have to be economically viable.
The effectiveness of the CER method is backed by science. Yes, when applied correctly. That is, when cats are massively sterilized and wide geographic regions are covered. By making it mandatory in all municipalities, these objectives will be achieved.
All this management will also contribute to reducing predation. It is true that the cat’s hunting instinct does not completely disappear with sterilization. But it is no less true that its intensity does decrease significantly, since its food needs are covered. Sterilized female cats also don’t have to hunt to feed litters that no longer exist.
With the aim of protecting biodiversity, the location of the colonies will also be regulated, not allowing their presence in vulnerable spaces and limiting it to less problematic areas.
In addition, measures are articulated aimed at promoting the responsible ownership of animals and the prevention of abandonment. This is critical to moving towards a definitive solution to this pressing problem.
Finally, it should be noted that with the current discourse against cats, permanently present in social networks, a dangerous scenario is being promoted. The episodes of mistreatment that occur against feline colonies have intensified. One of the most serious is poisoning.
In our laboratory we have detected an increase in cat poisoning in recent years. With the placement of poison, numerous specimens of wildlife that fall victim to those same poisons are also affected. If the conflict generated by cats decreases, the placement of poisoned baits will decrease, and thus biodiversity is also protected.
Obviously, no solution is perfect for a problem as complex as cat overpopulation. However, hindering the implementation of the animal protection law contributes to delaying the implementation of solutions to a problem that concerns us all so much. Without a law that protects them, cats will continue to live poorly and this will not help biodiversity conservation at all.
Octavio Perez Luzardo
He is Professor of Toxicology at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Reference article: https://theconversation.com/por-que-la-ley-que-protegera-los-gatos-callejeros-tambien-ayudara-a-proteger-la-biodiversidad-183467
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