Wednesday 2 June 2021

Deliberate acts of cruelty against community cats in Singapore

A spate of deliberate acts of cruelty against community cats in Singapore is concerning to some residents. The type of wounds inflicted clearly indicate deliberate acts of violence against these cats. These are deep slash type wounds to their bodies. And it is not the first time this has happened. In this instance violence against cats has occurred in a residential district of Singapore called Ang Mo Kio. It is abbreviated as AMK. It is situated in the north-east of Singapore and is the third most populated planning area in the North-East region and ranks eighth in terms of population in the country overall.

Ang Mo Kio cats have been slashed by abuser
Ang Mo Kio cats have been slashed by abuser. Photos: Ang Mo Kio South Caregivers and Feeders

To be perfectly frank, what is happening in Singapore happens all over the world in developed countries. It's identical. The overall scenario is absolutely typical. Society has abandoned cats through irresponsible cat ownership. These are domesticated cats. They become community cats and some of them produce offspring who become feral cats. The upshot is that you get cats without homes living on the streets and in this instance, it happens to be in a place which is known for its order and cleanliness. The authorities in Singapore like to keep the place squeaky-clean.

That attitude must filter down or it filters up from the population and so when cats 'litter the streets' of an orderly society it must irritate some people. And those people who are insensitive to animal welfare are liable to be driven to abuse against these animals. Set against that there are residents who are better-disciplined and realise that although the cats spoil the appearance of the place (in the eyes of some) they have a duty to act humanely towards them because society put them there. It is not the fault of the cats and therefore they should not be punished in any way.

They should be helped and their number should be reduced in a humane way. That is why in Singapore, as occurs elsewhere, there are volunteers who practice TNR (trap-neuter-release) programs which gradually reduces the population size. Within those programs the cats are fed in the interests of their welfare.

Some residents don't understand how TNR works or disagree with it and therefore they think that feeding street cats promotes the spread of disease and encourages more street cats. And I suspect, that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated this feeling of the spread of disease. A lot of people think that street cat spread diseases to people. They don't because the diseases that cats suffer from are nearly always not zoonotic by which I mean they are particular to the species and cannot be transferred to another species i.e. humans.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 is zoonotic and therefore it can be spread from cats to people. There is no doubt therefore, in my mind, that this spate of abuses and cruelty against cats has been prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. On a philosophical level, if people feel free to abuse cats because of fears of getting Covid from them, they should turn their abuse to people because it is people who are far more likely to give them the disease.

Research indicates that it is unlikely that domestic cats transmit the disease to people. There is no current evidence of it. Some residents are making up their own minds without reference to science. They are fearful. It is this fear which sometimes drives people to do bad things.

However, animal cruelty has no place in the society of any developed country or indeed any country developed or undeveloped. Animals are sentient beings. They feel pain and pleasure just like humans. If people feel that the street cats are a nuisance, rather than being abusive towards them, they should do something positive about it. They should join the volunteers running TNR programs to reduce the numbers. They should learn about cat behaviour and responsible cat ownership and educate people on these topics. Education reduces the abandonment of cats. It is all about education. Ignorance is the source of cruelty towards animals.

Colombian woman in Madrid eaten by her domestic cats

NEWS AND COMMENT: The headline sounds awful and impossible but it is essentially true in that a 79-year-old Colombian woman died in her apartment about three months ago it is believed and she had cats. The cats were full-time indoor cats and all of a sudden there was nobody there to look after them and so they turned to the body of their owner for sustenance; which is why the headlines state that the woman was eaten from the waist up by her pet cats.

The apartment block where Clara lived
The apartment block where Clara lived

This has happened before because I can remember similar headlines about a year ago when the news media were chewing over the possibility that domestic cats eat people. And their imaginations ran riot for a week while they joked about the possibility of domestic cats eating people. They don't eat people as we fully well know. But the story is incredibly sad, not really for the lady who passed (although that is sad enough) but for her seven cats. Five of them had died of starvation and two had survived by eating her.

The woman's name is Clara Ines Tobon. She was a Colombian living in Spain. They believe that she died from Covid-19. The alarms were raised in the usual way: smells emerging from her apartment from a decaying body. And there were flies too.

The police asked firefighters to force entry into the apartment on Monday through one of her windows and they found her dead in one of the rooms. The two surviving cats were taken to a local animal rescue centre. One neighbour said to the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo: "A police officer said it was the worst thing he had ever seen since in his job."

Clara had been living in the apartment since 1996. Her family lives in Colombia. As I mentioned, this sort of event is not that unusual. 

Dog under similar circumstances

Apparently, in September 2019 a dog survived after their owner died of cancer by eating part of his body. This, too, happened in Spain and the man's body was undiscovered for about a month. When he was discovered, there was no flesh on his legs. Once again there was a rancid smell coming out of his apartment which notified neighbours that something was badly wrong.

The dog was taken to an animal rescue centre. They said that the man died of lymphatic cancer and that he was a chef aged 56.

Dying of starvation and dehydration

The Humane Society of America tells us that when an animal dies of starvation they suffer from tremendous pain. It is said that they suffer from a "myriad of painful symptoms throughout each stage of their physical deterioration."

When an animal dies of starvation chemicals known as ketones build up in their blood. They cause mild euphoria which act as an anaesthetic for the animal which I presume is a form of survival. The brain releases feel-good hormones called endorphins. This is the same chemical that is released when you do strenuous exercise.

The immune system is harmed because of an extreme deficiency of vitamins and minerals. Sometimes starving people die of immune-related diseases because of this.

There is, of course, a loss of body fat followed by a loss of muscle and general atrophy and ultimately organ failure. The liver degenerates, there may be skin lesions and anaemia.

The body becomes acutely dehydrated which itself causes a general degeneration of the body and brain as the electrolyte balance is disrupted. The brain cells dry out causing convulsions. The respiratory tract dries out resulting in thick secretions which can plug the lungs and cause death. The major organs stop working causing death.

The five cats that died of starvation and dehydration suffered acute pain for quite a while before they passed. May they rest in peace. We should think of them.

Do domestic cats have names for animals they see?

Take this scenario: my cat is allowed outside and he sees a badger in my back garden. Last night he would have seen a fox walking down the right of way behind my house where I feed them. So, on numerous occasions he has seen and even encountered, in quite close contact probably, other animals who live close to my house. And, of course, he bumps into other domestic cats. In fact, he has a friend, a female black-and-white semi-long-haired cat. Humans have names for these animals but do domestic cats? Do they have a special list of names of the animals that they are likely to meet in their lives and which have been taught of by their mother?

Maine Coon photo by Armand Tamboly. I know I am in breach of his copyright but I hope he will forgive me as I am promoting his photography and encouraging a sale.

We don't know! It seems highly unlikely because domestic cats do not have a constructed language as humans have. They communicate in various ways and of course domestic cats create sounds which are highly variable and which have a meaning either in terms of a long-distance call or a close encounter form of communication but they don't have a language in the sense that we mean it.

Therefore, we have to conclude that domestic cats do not label the wild and domestic animals that they meet with names. They probably simply see them as other creatures and recognise them as either potentially friendly, friendly, potentially hostile and actually hostile. They probably innately understand whether an animal is hostile in the way that they understand that snakes are dangerous.

We know that they understand that snakes are dangerous because they adopt the appearance of a snake when they curl up. This applies to tabby cats which is the original coat. And of course, we all know that they hiss like snakes. This is an adaptation, part of their evolution, to deter predators. But domestic cats won't have a name for the snake. They just know that that particular creature makes a hissing sound and that it is a danger to them.

On that subject, by the way, there is one wild cat, a diminutive species in fact, the sand cat, which is very capable of attacking, killing and eating any snake even the poisonous varieties. So not all cats are fearful of snakes.

It seems that only the human has been able to classify animals and give them labels. Domestic cats simply recognise other animals but in one sense they do classify them: hostile or non-hostile. This allows them to avoid or approach respectively.

Tuesday 1 June 2021

What wild cats live in Florida?

Two wild cat species live in Florida: the bobcat and the Florida panther (puma, cougar, mountain lion). At one time the Florida panther was believed to be distinct subspecies of the puma but no longer. Because of the low population size of the Florida panther - in the hundreds and as low as about 100 I recall at one time - pumas from the west of the country were introduced which I understand to be an acceptance by the conservationists that they have abandoned the notion of keeping the Florida panther purebred and are just trying to save the puma from becoming extinct in Florida. It is the last place in the east of the US where it exists. The rest were hunted to extinction long ago when they were considered pests. And now they are treasured but it is too late.

Florida panther killed on the roads that criss-cross the state
Florida panther killed on the roads that criss-cross the state. Tragic but not uncommon. PHOTOGRAPH BY CARLTON WARD, JR.

It is a species of cat which is under constant pressure from human activity such as new roads and new developments. I believe that commercial organisations find the presence of the puma in Florida a nuisance and want rid of the pesky animal. I even suggested a conspiracy to get rid of it at one time.

There is talk from time to time of jaguarundi being present in Florida. There may be some but they are likely to be escaped 'pets' as the experts (IUCN Red List) say there are none.

That's about it. Back in the day there would have been ocelots but no longer. Those days are long gone as the best we can do nowadays is see fossil records of ocelots in this sunny state.

Snares are injuring or killing outside domestic cats

Snares are legal in the UK. Farmers and landowners swear by them, considering them to be a "necessary and humane means of controlling foxes which kill a range of vulnerable and rare birds as well livestock". A spokesperson for the Moorland Association which represents landowners said that they follow a code of best practice which goes beyond the law to ensure "the highest animal welfare".

Domestic cats at risk of being snared by farmer
Outside cats are at risk or being harmed or killed by farmer's snares put down to kill foxes. Image by Richard Revel from Pixabay

It is hard to imagine how that statement can be believed when non-targeted animals are inhumanely killed by snares. Also, without doubt, killing foxes in this way is inhumane. We know that farmers have to make a living but do they have to be cruel to animals to achieve that objective?

An animal welfare charity, Animal Aid, is at the forefront of a campaign to ban snares. They argue that in the Queen's speech, at the opening of Parliament, the government promised to address animal welfare issues and to set the highest standards of animal welfare but it is allowing the use of snares which cause indiscriminate killing of both domestic and wild animals.

Once an animal is caught in a snare the wire cats into the flesh causing acute pain. There are even stories of animals biting off their own limbs to be released. A campaigning group, Moorland Monitors say that they see the cruelty first hand both to pets and wildlife.

In 2016, The Mirror newspaper reports that a majority of UK members of Parliament voted to ban the manufacture, possession and sale and use of snares. But the country opted for a voluntary code which states that snares must be inspected daily and animals caught in them should be killed humanely. This code of practice appears not to be followed and not to have protected innocent animals caught up in this objectionable practice which includes wondering domestic cats allowed outside.

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