Friday 4 November 2022

US National Park Service wants to get rid of Puerto Rico's community cats and there's uproar

This is an example of cat loving people power winning for the time being in a battle against a US government agency.

First things first: Puerto Rico is neither a US state nor an independent country, but a territory of the United States and it is an island in the Caribbean. It is described as an 'unincorporated US territory'. That's why the US National Park Service is involved in deciding to remove all or some the beloved cats of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

There is a battle going on between the citizens of San Juan and I presume the wider population and the US National Park Service.

San Juan TNRed cat
San Juan TNRed cat. Image: Pixabay.

The citizens are challenging the Park Service officials who feel that the cats have become a problem. The National Park Service have a plan and in it they mention "encounters between visitors and cats and the smell of urine and faeces [which] are inconsistent with the cultural landscape".

Their aim is to improve the visitor experience and protect cultural and natural resources. They want to reduce health and safety concerns and "alleviate nuisance issues". They also believe that the cats are killing wildlife in the area.

The Park Service do not want a public discussion about these community cats. There are many supporters of the cats, who want a proper formal hearing about what to do with them.

This caused a clash last Wednesday when dozens of people gathered for the first of two public meetings on the issue. The National Park Service said that there would be no hearing and demanded that the citizens write down their comments. That angered the citizens and those that love the cats.

They said that they have questions and doubts about the plan, and they want to ask questions in a meeting.

Eventually their demands were met, and the doors opened to a small theatre. They had their chance to have their say and one by one they did so to loud applause.

Apparently, several non-profit organisations demanded evidence from the National Park Service to support statements in the plan that some people did not want the cats.

They asked the question because citizens see tourists totally enamoured of the cats. They are a feature for tourists. And when you walk around the Old San Juan you see tourists interacting with the cats.

As I understand it, volunteers do operate TNR on these cats to control the numbers (see image above - left ear tipped). One person who is particularly concerned about the potential removal of the cats (which they believe would lead to killing them) is an animal lover, Alfonso Ocasio, who has been visiting the old town since 2014 to feed the cats a couple of times per week.

He said: "I don't know how these people dare face the world with their proposal." He spends up to $15 a week feeding the cats. He adopts those that are sick and elderly and cares for them during their last days.

The people have questions about what the National Park Service plan to do with the cats. And there are questions about whether there had been ecological assessments and what the consequences would be of removing them. Would there be a rat problem?

On my interpretation, it looks as though this is an example of people power and they are going to make sure that there is a proper hearing and a proper assessment about how to manage the beloved cats of this old city, the capital of Puerto Rico. I sense that they will be protected.

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