Why are there so many feral cats in Israel?

I have been to Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. I can confirm that there are lots of feral cats. They would be better described as community cats because they are part of the human community. They appear to be accepted. There is no attempt to exterminate them. As far as I can tell nobody vociferously complains about them. But there are lots of them and I am sure that some people are concerned about their numbers. I needs to be said, too, that the people of Israel have a good attitude vis-a-vis animal welfare. For example, they have banned declawing. That’s nice and unusual for a country in the Middle East.

A woman feeds community cats in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: EPA/ABIR SULTAN
A woman feeds community cats in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: EPA/ABIR SULTAN
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

One website, the Seattle Times, tells us that there are 2 million feral cats in Israel. The newspaper says that animal rights organisations in the country and experts have predicted that within a few years there might be more feral cats than people in Israel (8 million). Something needs to be done.

The reason why there are feral cats and the reason why the numbers are increasing is the same worldwide, at least at a fundamental level. It starts with some domestic cat owners not neutering and spaying their cats. These cats become stray cats and then the stray cats beget more stray cats and they become feral cats. If these feral cats are not trapped and neutered or spayed they create more feral cats and there comes a time when it is very hard to control them.

It would appear that there is a lack of state funding with respect to providing veterinary services to spay and neuter feral cats in Israel. I presume that animal rights organisations want the state to fund more generously and with greater efficiency, TNR programs.

I think it’s fair to say that Israel’s leaders are not committed to neutering and spaying feral cats en masse. This is in part because they seem to accept them as community cats and also in part because the Agricultural Minister of Israel is concerned about removing the private parts of cats and dogs because it may violate Jewish law. What he means is God’s instruction to be “fruitful and multiply”.

I’m not sure whether he’s joking about this but he appears not to be. The Agricultural Minister of Israel, Uri Ariel, has an idea to deal with the excessive number of feral cats. Once again I don’t know whether he’s joking or not; it seems that he is.

He wants to ship them all out by plane to another country who will agree to accept them. And he only wants to ship out male or female cats. Only one gender of cat needs to be shipped out and there needs to be a chosen country willing to accept them. The recipient country is to be determined. In theory this would lead to the gradual removal of all feral cats in the country over the maximum lifespan of a feral cat.

It sounds highly far-fetched and therefore I think it’s a joke. Secondly you are not going to get any country willing to accept a couple of million feral cats from Israel even if your could trap them all! This is partly because each country has its own issues with feral and community cats. Some countries deal with them humanely and in an efficient manner and minimize their numbers. Israel appears not to be one of those countries. The root issue in my honest opinion having visited the country is that they don’t mind them. They accept them and therefore there is a reluctance to commit to reducing the numbers.

The Washington post’s author William Booth said that he saw no rats in Jerusalem and the cats don’t mind whether they are in a Muslim, Christian or Jewish area of Jerusalem. Is all the same to them. That’s the beauty of cats; no race or religious issues and no rats. Keep the cats, I say but instigate more efficient and widespread state funded TNR programs and enlist volunteers while funding veterinarians.

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4 thoughts on “Why are there so many feral cats in Israel?”

  1. Yes, it was a joke. It can’t be done because no other country will accept those felines, and because you can’t catch them all anyway.

    I’ve taken sick feral cats to the vet and had to pay with money I barely have. The very few shelters are all full, and finding a vet who’ll take them for free is extremely difficult.

    People here get angry if you feed feral cats. I know some cats’ feeders who leave cats’ food in the park near my house very early in the morning when there’s no one around so nobody will give them a hard time over it. I took three cats off the streets, and they now live in my house. But the situation is difficult because there’s no help available. It’s also difficult and dangerous to get them in the cage to take the the vet. I’ve been scratched on more than one occasion. And then after treating them, I had to take them back to the streets. I can’t take them all in.

  2. I live in Israel. I bring many feral cats in to be spayed and neutered, but the cost quickly grows astronomical, and anyway such private efforts make no dent in the total population— for that a concerted effort is required.

    Let me turn the question around and ask: what successful means are used in other countries to limit the population of feral cats (and dogs!)

    • Thanks a lot for commenting. Well, the truth is that in America for instance they tell us that they have a ‘feral cat problem’ too. And they have TNR programs all over the country but it is not a widely employed method of limiting numbers. They also kill (euthanise) millions of cats annually many of which are feral or semi-feral. In the UK there are not so many feral cats (I never see them). They too are sometimes euthanised or spayed and neutered. They are generally left alone.

      I don’t think Israel is exceptional in having a large number of feral cats. Perhaps the relatively gentle attitude of Israelis toward community cats is unusual. Australians want to kill their feral cats en masse anyway possible.

      No one anywhere has a magical idea on how to manage feral cat populations. The only humane way currently is government sponsored TNR on a wide scale employing thousands of volunteers. That’s my opinion.


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