Biology

Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am

This week: Strays

After years of living in Happy Valley and heavy suburbia, I decided last year to move to a more rural lifestyle in Sai Kung with my whole family of pets. The air was fresher and it was infinitely quieter, and I certainly don't miss the noise of rattling trams in Happy Valley.

I was pretty sure my dogs would benefit from having more space, but to my surprise, my cats seem to enjoy it even more, having discovered the roof and balconies, and the joys of sunbaking and chasing butterflies. Luckily for the butterflies, my cats are rather poor hunters and lose interest rather quickly.

When I first moved in, there were two or three stray cats in the village. They were skinny and looked rather wild. I noticed there was one ginger cat with a white head. It was a strange pattern and made this cat rather memorable.

As the weeks passed, I noticed foam lunchboxes discreetly placed around the stormwater drains where the cats hide.

At first, I thought it was just some good Samaritan that didn't want a lunchbox to go to waste, but after a few more weeks, I found it odd that these lunchboxes would persist in the same spots. On closer inspection a few days later, I noticed cat food in the lunchboxes. Unless the nearby cafe was experimenting with its customers, I thought someone in our village was actively feeding stray cats.

A few more weeks went by and I noticed there was suddenly a whole lot of kittens running around the block as my car went by. On many occasions, I noticed kittens with the distinctive white head and ginger markings. It was clear those kittens were from a litter belonging to the stray I saw.

I was getting a little perturbed at the thought of these kittens having more kittens in six months. I decided that if I happened to bump into the person feeding them, I would have a few words. However, I never did chance upon that person; maybe our schedules didn't coincide.

The straw that broke the camel's back came on my way home one night when I saw that the mother cat I first sighted many months earlier had been killed by a car. I took a photo, picked up the body and disposed of it.

That night, I did what police would call a stakeout, waiting until the person that fed the strays came out to do their rounds. In any case, it was a nice balmy night and the dogs enjoyed the impromptu outing.

Around midnight, a woman aged about 50 came out with a plastic bag and used foam lunchboxes to feed the strays. I approached her and said: 'I noticed you've been feeding the strays here and because of that, they are multiplying. Haven't you noticed that there are a lot more stray kittens around?'

She was immediately defensive, saying: 'It's none of your business. These cats would starve and suffer if it wasn't because of me. Haven't they suffered enough?'

I told her: 'You are just perpetuating a vicious cycle of suffering. Because you have fed these cats, they are more fertile and breed more often. As you can see for yourself, every six months these cats will have a litter of kittens, and in another six months, those kittens will have kittens of their own. You would have a colony of unvaccinated cats that are bound to have distemper, ear mites, cat flu, fleas, worms, feline Aids, and feline leukaemia virus.

'As the population increases, there will be increased competition, and that will lead to catfights, bite wounds and abscesses. Where will it all end?'

I could see it slowly sinking in, but to make sure I got the point across, I took out my camera and showed her the photo of the dead mother. There was a look of horror as she recognised the cat in the picture as one of the ones she had been feeding.

I then said: 'This is the indirect result of you feeding stray cats and more cats will end up like this if you keep feeding them. I think it would be better if together we can break the cycle of suffering.'

I told her to catch the cats she found friendly and I would try to find homes for them, and we would trap the wild cats and I would desex and release them. Fortunately, she was keen on the idea and that is what we did. Being a Buddhist lay disciple, helping to break cycles of suffering is one of my aims in life.

It has been a few months since we did the capture and release and it is easy to see the results. There are fewer cats in the area, the woman has stopped feeding them, and fewer cats from other areas are coming around to see if food is available. The neutered cats have grown bigger and are out-competing their non-desexed counterparts.

For those of you who feed street cats, it's only OK if you can selectively feed the cats that are already desexed. If you can't, stop your feeding activities immediately as you are only making matters worse.