Should stray cats be protected? These scientists believe that

Cats are high on the list of pets preferred and defended by humans. With few exceptions, sympathy for these felines (Felis catus) has spread for millennia practically all over the world and even reaches the specimens that live without permanent residence in human dwellings (urban feral cats, street cats…).

The preliminary draft of the Law on the protection, rights and welfare of animals, presented to the public last March by the Ministry of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda, grants urban or stray cats, as well as colonies of these animals, practically the same treatment and the same rights as domestic or companion cats.

Thus, for example, in article 52 of this preliminary draft in process it is indicated that it is the obligation of the regional administrations to “install shelters, hoppers or any element necessary to guarantee the quality of life of the cats in the colonies”.

Scientific response and concern

A group of 13 scientists from the Pablo de Olavide University (Seville), the Doñana-CSIC Biological Station, the Miguel Hernández University, the Institut Mediterrani d’Estudis Avançats (CSIC-UIB) Mallorca, and the Institute of Natural Products and Agrobiology (IPNA-CSIC), Santa Cruz de Tenerife, has published a letter in Conservation Science and Practiceofficial magazine of the Society for Conservation Biology, in which they criticize the favorable treatment of stray cats and urban colonies of these felines that is included in the government’s draft.

The scientific authors of this argued paper consider the defense of stray felines that is proposed in the draft to be in contradiction with various regulations for the defense of biodiversity, recalling that the domestic cat “is involved in more than a quarter of contemporary extinctions of birds, mammals and reptiles worldwide, and is considered the most damaging invasive predator.

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“Predation by cats is the most important cause of mortality of small mammals and birds, ahead of road kill, poisoning or human hunters,” the authors indicate, citing results of scientific studies published in recent years.

Feeding expenses is not the solution

“Contrary to popular belief, well-fed colony cats still hunt wild prey,” the Mendion letter and a 2021 study by Plimpton et al. indicate, “and due to their high densities, feral cats often have impacts on wildlife populations. prey populations that are several times larger than native predators (Trouwborst et al. al., 2020)”

The group that signs the letter critical of the government’s draft also indicates that “the impacts of cats are especially severe on the islands, and the Spanish law will undoubtedly make it difficult to conserve the endemic fauna of the Canary and Balearic Islands.”

In addition, the co-authors indicate that “in addition to predation, cats also act as vectors and reservoirs of numerous diseases that can endanger wildlife and harm public health.”

Feral cat colonies may play a particularly important role in disease dynamics due to the high density of individuals and their intense interactions within colonies and with owned and feral cats.

Stray cat hunting an endemic ‘ Gallotia galloti’ lizard near a cat colony located in Tenerife, Canary Islands.

CSP- Dailos Hernández-Brito

The letter of criticism assures that “it is contradictory that the same Ministry in charge of fulfilling the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, including stopping the loss of biodiversity, proposes the improvement and maintenance of a powerful driver of biodiversity loss”. “While addressing animal welfare issues, legal instruments should unequivocally seek to reduce the negative impacts of free-roaming cats by minimizing their numbers in the shortest amount of time and limiting owned cats’ access to the outdoors as much as possible.” as possible,” the authors of the letter conclude.

Allegations against the draft

The scientific group that signed the letter has also led the drafting of a set of allegations to the preliminary draft Law that, according to their perspective, must be taken into account to guarantee that the protection of animal welfare does not clash head-on with conservation strategies. They suggest that, to guarantee animal welfare, the law should focus exclusively on the protection of companion animals, avoiding conflict with other regulations and strategies for the conservation of biodiversity.

For example, the management of invasive species should be aimed at their eradication whenever possible. In the case of stray cats, the negative impacts they cause should be reduced, minimizing their number in the shortest possible time and limiting the access of domestic cats to the outside as much as possible. It is also important to create social awareness about the effects that cats produce in their environment, both on biodiversity and on public health.


Full text of the draft Law on the protection, rights and welfare of animals.

– Authors of the writing in the magazine Conservation Science and Practice: Martina Carrete, Miguel Clavero, Eneko Arrondo, Anna Traveset, Rubén Bernardo-Madrid, Montserrat Vilà, Julio Blas, Manuel Nogales, Miguel Delibes, Alberto García-Rodríguez, Dailos Hernández-Brito, Pedro Romero-Vidal, José L. Tella.

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