UP has become home to many cats on all its campuses and residences. These cats can cause problems by going in search of food inside residences and breeding indoors, and they can also carry rabies. However, the cats prove an advantage in controlling rat populations. While UP may have a case of overpopulation, it is not effective to remove the cats as they are territorial and will likely return, or a new cat will simply take their place. Instead, UP chooses to manage its cat population, which is far more effective.

Ilze Ueckermann, the manager of Waste and Environment at UP, coordinates this process. The cats are caught with traps at night and are sterilised by a veterinarian at the Onderstepoort campus before being placed back in the area where they were caught. Those that have been sterilised are marked with a tick in their ear. The cats feed often on campus and residence rats and mice, but UP also purchases cat food which is placed out every day by volunteers (including holidays) at locations around campus, such as outside the Graduate Centre and the Musaion. Ukerman explains that this helps supplement the cats’ diet, giving them enough energy to hunt rats and keeping them healthy and disease free. The volunteers also keep watch for sickly looking cats and kittens who need to be taken to Onderstepoort for treatment.

The Onderstepoort Cat Interest Group (CIG) focuses on the cats in the area surrounding their campus, supplementing their diet with cat food every second day and implementing a Trap, Neuter and Release program. This is an especially important operation as the rats pose a threat to the large quantities of animal feed kept on the campus. The CIG implement a feral mapping system where members photograph and keep records of any cats seen around campus, which is used to create a feral database. The CIG also takes in stray kittens and fosters them until they can find homes.

Jamiela Cornelius, a fourth-year BSc Agriculture and BVSc Veterinary Science student and chairperson of the CIG, said, “CIG gives me the chance to work with cats and make a difference in these animals’ lives. Feral cats exist due to humans that sometimes reject the responsibility of having a pet for life and so these highlyadaptable creatures learn to fend for themselves. I love cats and when given the chance the feral cats on campus show they still love us too.”

UP’s cats are indicative of a larger feral cat problem in Pretoria. According to CatPals, a welfare non-profit organisation that feeds and run shelters for feral cats in Pretoria, there are an estimated seven million feral cats in South Africa. Alley Cat Allies, an American organisation that advocates for the protection and humane treatment of cats, defines a feral cat as a cat that has never had contact with humans, or has not had contact for a very long time and is now fearful of people. Feral cats often live with a group of related cats as a colony, defending their territory, and are seldom seen. Feral cats need shelter and food, but according to Alley Cat Allies, “being forced into a house or other structure can be the most frightening experience possible for a cat.”

Doreen Gough of CatPals said, “Ferals in cities happen because pet owners are irresponsible and do not sterilise their pets. In difficult economic times pets are abandoned either because owners erroneously think they can take care of themselves, or the owners simply don’t care what happens to the abandoned animals.” Gough also explained that, “The attitude of [the] majority of people in Pretoria regarding feral cats is regrettable. Mostly they want them removed, or they feed them and when the cats breed continuously (as cats do if they aren’t sterilised) they then want someone else to remove them. Thankfully not everyone is like this and some businesses and private people are willing to contribute toward their sterilisation and management. Cats play an important role among humans, especially in factories, businesses and areas where there is a lot of open areas. They reduce the vermin population and a settled colony will keep out other cats.”

In an article published by eNCA titled “Joburg’s feral cats forgotten and unseen”, Rulof Jackson, chief inspector at the Animal Anti-Cruelty League, said, “A feral cat that is healthy and in good condition can catch anything between 10 and 14 rodents per night, so if you equate that in kilograms, over time you’re looking at catching over 90 kg of rodents per year … without that the city would probably be overrun by rodents.”

Image: Shen Scott

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