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During World Sterilisation Week we thought we’d share the story of the feral cat families that TEARS Animal Rescue cares for around the Cape Peninsula, and the importance that sterilisation plays in their survival.

A feral cat is a domestic cat that has either been born to homeless feral parents or has reverted to a wild state in order to survive due to abandonment or being lost. Although they appear to be free and self-sufficient, they are sadly too often the victim of illness, injury and starvation. Without our help most ferals will suffer at some point in their lives.

Many well-meaning people immediately want to step in and rescue the cats from their environment and provide them with new homes, but this is not only traumatic for the cats who have no experience of a domestic, confined life, but could actually worsen the problem.

This is because the presence of feral cats in an area indicates an ecological need for them. The permanent removal of the cats creates a vacuum that would soon be filled by other migrating and abandoned cats – usually ones that aren’t sterilised. They are all attracted to the food source in the area, most commonly rodents that are a health hazard to humans. Our feral friends help keep these rat numbers under control.

Feral-cats2The goal of our TEARS Feral Cat Project is to minimise these population numbers and to care for the vulnerable cat colonies. By sterilising and regularly feeding our feral families, we naturally manage the delicate structure by keeping their numbers down and ensuring they are happy and healthy. Because we believe that ferals do not need to live short, sad lives. It is a misconception that they suffer daily. Studies have shown that sterilised cats in managed colonies live as long as house cats do, but in order to stay this content, they need our help.

The three main problems facing feral cats are: Over-population and fighting for territory and food, malnutrition, and untreated disease or injuries. Our TEARS Feral Cat Project goes about lovingly addressing each of these problems.

Feral cats that aren’t cared for run the risk of suffering long and painful deaths due to disease or injury. We regularly visit the colonies we take care of and will immediately notice if an individual is in need of medical attention. These individuals are trapped and treated, then released once they are well again. Those that cannot be saved are euthanized to ensure they do not suffer anymore.

Feral-KittenAnother critical task carried out by the TEARS Feral Cat Project is the rescuing of feral kittens that have lost their mother and need human intervention in order to survive.

Our ferals, for the most part, live happy and long lives. They recognise our dedicated band of Feral Cat volunteers and know that there is a tasty meal on the way. This brings to mind the famous Coliseum cats in Rome. The Italians consider them an important part of the Roman “bio-cultural heritage”. Today, these feral cats are featured in many coffee table books and on postcards, happily and freely roaming the same streets that tourists pay a fortune to visit today. We aim to provide similar royal treatment to the feral cats in our care. We truly do consider them community and family.

1. Sterilisation

The most important intervention in the long-term compassionate management of feral cats is sterilisation. A female cat as young as six months old can have three litters of kittens a year, and one unsprayed cat can produce up to 80,000 offspring in a five year period – her babies have more babies who have more babies, and on it goes.

Cat green eyesThese young females experience high levels of stress while nursing, and without human intervention as many as half of the litter may die of starvation. If the cats are sterilised it will mean that females no longer need to share their limited food and energy resources with litter after litter, and males get into fewer fights and lower their risk of contracting feline AIDS.

We carry out the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) practice – feral cats are trapped and brought to the clinic, then sterilised, vaccinated for rabies, dewormed, and treated for fleas and ticks. They are then returned to the colony they came from – usually on the same day. On average, we sterilise 300 cats a month from feral colonies throughout Cape Town.

Our project achieves great things for ferals thanks to a dozen crazy cat ladies, headed by the extraordinary Brenda Kerr, who bravely creep around streets, warehouses, and sometimes even the bush at night, expertly trapping, transporting, and selflessly serving the feral cat populations of the Western Cape.

2. Feeding

Ferals that are forced to live purely on scraps, rodents and other critters, will suffer from malnutrition. They need a balanced diet and the TEARS Feral Cat Project provides them with this supplementation on an ongoing basis. Colonies are regularly provided with food and water and this becomes a dependable source of nourishment for them. These cats then flourish with good health and the spreading of disease is minimised.

Medical-cats3. Medical Treatment

Feral cats that aren’t cared for run the risk of suffering long and painful deaths due to disease or injury. We regularly visit the colonies we take care of and will immediately notice if an individual is in need of medical attention. These individuals are trapped and treated, then released once they are well again. Those that cannot be saved are euthanized to ensure they do not suffer anymore.