Cyprus: where feral cats outnumber humans

NEWS AND COMMENT-CYPRUS: Cyprus is the place where archaeologists excavated evidence of the first domesticated wildcat. It is believed that the deceased person brought his 'domestic cat' over from the mainland. This would have been a domesticated wildcat and it happened about 10,000 years ago. And now Cyprus is in the news again. They don't know how many feral cats they have but at a rough estimate they think it could be a similar number to the human population of the island which is 1.2 million.

Sadly, Cyprus has a reputation-a long-lived reputation-of having too many feral and stray cats. They are known for it. But it seems that the government has continuously brushed the problem under the carpet. Perhaps they think that it is a tourist attraction! I don't think it can or should ever be a tourist attraction.

Is the breeding season for cats extended in Cyprus? We know that oestrus is brought on by extended daylight hours after shorter hours of daylight. And temperature has a role in inducing ovulation in domestic and stray cats. Perhaps the climatic conditions of Cyprus induces oestrus more efficiently than in the northern European states?

REALTED: Cats may have been first domesticated 14,500 years ago.

Stray and feral cats of Nicosia
Stray and feral cats of Nicosia. Photo: Cyprus Mail.

And when there are that many feral and stray cats sitting around and wandering around the streets of Cyprus you are bound to get the odd person who wants to kill them and abuse them. And in any case, it is simply cruel to create or to allow to create feral cats in these numbers because they live tough lives. No doubt they depend upon kind people to feed them but they're not going to receive veterinary care unless under exceptional circumstances.

What I like about the story is that the policymakers of that island i.e. the politicians, see that the solution is to put money into TNR programs. They admit that the current funding of TNR programs on the island is far too low. They are spaying and neutering between 1500-2000 cats annually. At that rate, is estimated, it will take between 500-600 years to spay and neuter 1 million+ stray and feral cats.

The European Union has a target of 75% stray cats to be sterilised. The government of Cyprus is going to increase state funding of TNR to €100,000. The opposition party states that that is not enough. It almost certainly isn't enough. By the look of it, it is far too little, actually.

What is nice about this discussion is that the government is looking at TNR and not looking at killing stray and feral cats which is the policy in Australia. I don't see any discussion about mass slaughter in online news media. That, at least, is a step in the right direction. And it disheartening to think that the government is involved in TNR. When governments get involved and help volunteers and NGOs you get more effective TNR programs. In the case of Cyprus, it has to be an island-wide TNR coordinated programme. It has to be organised carefully. That is the way I see it working out.

However, Cyprus is well known as having a feral and stray cat problem as does neighbouring Greece. It must be the climate. These warm climates allow feral cats to survive more easily but the back story is straightforward: it's the people of the island who carelessly allow their cats to procreate. If every Cypriot sterilised their domestic cat and looked after them properly, there will be no feral cats. Every feral cat anywhere is the result of careless cat ownership, at root.

Clearly, the government of Cyprus has under-prioritised the feral cat problem. This is completely to be expected. Feral cats are low down the priority list for government expenditure. But there comes a time when something has to be done and that moment appears to have arrived.

And as mentioned, when you have a high visibility of unknown cats wandering around the streets, you're bound to get animal cruelty. There are often reports of stray cats and indoor/outdoor domestic cats being severely mistreated. This puts pressure on the government to tackle the problem because otherwise they are condoning animal abuse through inactivity.

For example, in January 2021, members of the public reported that up to 11 cats were killed near a cat cafĂ© in Oroklini. And in August a person was arrested for killing a cat. A recent high-profile case has emerged from Greece in which a man kicked a cat into the sea by Taverna. 

The crime was videoed and uploaded to social media where it sparked outrage. As I recall that man has been arrested and charged. The news media states that he faces 10 years in prison. That will not happen believe me. In Greece, an act of animal cruelty can lead to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of €50,000. How many times is the maximum punishment dished out? Never, I would argue.

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