Rising concern over campus feral cat population

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Photo by Sara Coleman
Since July 2010, when a website was created to track this phenomenon, a feral cat population has been growing across Lancaster University’s campus.

Sightings are commonplace, and students often interact with the animals, but some have raised questions as to how to cope with the large population. As defined by cats.org.uk, feral cats are those that are either born wild or have lived apart from humans too long to be adopted as pets.

According to the Lancaster University cat-tracking website created last July (sites.google.com/site/lancasterunicats/home) action needs to be taken. The site’s mystery creators have provided multiple ways in which students can become involved in reducing the campus’ feral cat population. One link allows students to enter a brief report about the cats they spot on campus through a “log your sightings” Google docs form. In addition to asking basic questions such as “how many cats did you see?” and “where did you see the cats?” the form includes pictures of the five most common types of feral cats – Classic Tabby, Silver, Red, Tortie, or Tortie and White – to help narrow down the identification process.

Another link offers a map of cat sightings since July 2010, so students can pinpoint just where the majority of feral cats have been spotted. However, the website does not show when this map was last updated. A third link contains an explanation of the website’s ultimate goal: to set up a Trapping, Neutering and Release programme (TNR) on campus.

The first step of the TNR process is catching the cats, which according to the site is done with “a humane cage trap” in which the animals are transported to the veterinarian. Once there they are neutered and “cared for until they have made a full recovery and healed” from the surgery, then released back on campus. While the site’s creators remain unidentified, they do state that they are working in conjunction with Bentham Pet Rescue, a not for profit animal rescue centre located in North Lancashire.

Cats Protection, an organization that helped neuter over 160,000 cats in the UK in 2010, clarifies on their website (cats.org.uk) why neutering feral cats is so important: “An uncontrolled feral colony will grow quickly; the cats will be susceptible to disease and may also become a nuisance. Simply removing the cats is not a long-term solution, as a new colony will soon move in.” Therefore, Cats Protection argues, neutering is the best option. Beyond immediate population reduction, neutering is proven to reduce the size of cat colonies in the long run and also deter other feral cats from moving in, their website says. Also, neutered cats both male and female reap a number of benefits. Because neutered cats are calmer cats, neutered males will be less inclined to fight and roam, lowering the risk of injuries and diseases spread by tomcat fights. Neutered females, who are able to reproduce as early as four months old, will be less likely to contract diseases spread through reproduction. Neutered females are also less at a risk of developing mammary cancer and neutered cats of both sexes are less at risk of contracting the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), or the cat version of AIDS passed through bites.

Although FIV cannot be passed to humans, there is split opinion among Lancaster students regarding the cats and any attempt at population control.

Second year students Han Tee and Niranjan Mahajam agree that the cats should be left alone. “They don’t look like stray cats,” Mahajam said, who added that he has seen a number of feral cats around campus. He elaborated that they all looked “clean,” their fur was not matted and they did not appear to be missing ears or tails. “I wouldn’t mind if they are left alone, if they are clean,” Mahajam said. Tee said the cats don’t bother him so he too thinks they should be left alone.

Third year Dave Lyon is of a different mind. Although Lyon said he does not personally have a problem with the cats and even admitted, “I quite like it [campus] with the cats walking about,” he said, “I’m sure there are health and safety problems with the cats. I think for their own benefit they should be neutered.” Sam Berry, a fourth year, agrees with Lyon and said he is in favour of the cats being captured to reduce their growing population. “You wouldn’t want to be overrun by cats,” said Berry.

If you believe our campus’s feral cats should be neutered, you can report the next cat you spot at: http://sites.google.com/site/lancasterunicats/home. It may be wise to stop feeding the cats. “There were loads of people feeding them [around Pendle],” said Berry, a Pendle College resident. Lyon also said he knows people who feed the felines.

The creators of Lancaster’s cat tracking website could not be reached for comment.

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