Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Removing cats

The Society gets emails from management corporations, factories and individuals asking us to take the cats away - today for example, a factory asked us if we could take away all the strays. Someone else from a condominium also wrote today to ask if all the cats could be adopted out. A third person emailed, worried that his employer is going to trap the cats and remove them from his office premises. These of course are the nicer people who do not just kill the cats and want to let them live, but the problem remains the same - removal and eradication are both doomed to fail (though in some isolated cases, relocation of a cat, not an entire colony, may be necessary).

Firstly, there is nowhere to put these cats - there are no shelters that have space for these cats. Imagine this, Singapore is a tiny, tiny island as everyone knows - even if by some miracle we were able to secure land for free, how many cats could we put on that plot of land? 2000? 5000? There are an estimated 60000 - 80000 stray cats out there. What happens to the rest of them? Do we just ignore them? They will keep proliferating and then there will be a lot MORE cats out there. Why not sterilise AND shelter them, some people may ask.

This brings us to reason number two, shelters cost a lot of money to run. Putting in 2000 cats a year could runs into the thousands. The money used to shelter these cats could then be used to sterilise far more cats. This means less cats are reproducing, leading to less cats being born, meaning that less cats will eventually need to be sheltered. So why not just kill the cats, some people ask? Because it does not work!

This is reason number three, cats are territorial - once you remove existing cats, new cats just move in. Biologist Roger Tabor termed it the 'vacuum effect'. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, and will fill it, new cats will just fill the space left by cats that have been removed. Some mistakenly believe that by removing the source of food, the cats will not come in, but this is not true. Cats wander - and they will wander to find food, but this is not the place that they may consider their territory. Removing the food just means they will wander somewhere else to eat and then return back to their territory again.

We have had volunteers tell us that they removed the cats from an area, so that the cats would not be caught. After a few weeks had passed, new cats had moved into the existing area. One volunteer told me that on the same night she had removed the cats to a shelter intending not to feed strays any more, she went back and found new cats she had never seen before in her area.

At the CHAMP conference in Florida last year, I heard about the work done in Puerto Rico. Over there they started pushing sterilisation aggressively, and found that they could afford to close their shelters down because less animals were coming in as I mentioned in an earlier entry.

This is why I believe so strongly in sterilisation - because it works! I've talked to and met volunteers whose colonies have stabilised or even decreased after they started sterilising. People sometimes accuse volunteers of being animal lovers - of course we do love animals, but we have also seen that killing animals does not work. The stray population has not decreased as time has gone on, no matter how many cats are killed. I believe in sterilisation because it is humane, but also because in the long run, it is the most effective and cost efficient solution. If we sterilise agressively, we WILL get a handle on stray overpopulation.


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