February 19, 2024

Polish National Academy of Sciences biologist Wojciech Solarz was not prepared for the public reaction when he announced that the domestic cat was an “invasive alien species” in Poland. The database already had another 1,786 species included without any objection, according to what he reports. Associated Press. But the entry of these cats on the black list, last July, has raised a great deal of controversy in the country. So much so that Solarz has had to go on television to explain the decision and the Polish Academy of Sciences has published an article citing the damage cats cause to birds and other wildlife. A study by the Warsaw University of Biological Sciences estimated in 2019 that domestic cats kill some 583 million small mammals and 135 million birds a year in Poland.

He felis catus It was probably domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the cradle of the great civilizations of the ancient Middle East, explains the Polish academy in its writing, which makes the species alien to Europe from a strictly scientific point of view. The institute emphasizes that “it is opposed to any type of cruelty towards animals”. It also argues that its classification was in line with the guidelines of the European Union. The common cat was not included in the list of invasive alien species that represent a threat to the EU, in EU Regulation 1143/2014; but this is not because the cat is not a problem for the local fauna, but because there are simply too many of them. Due to the massive presence of this species in domestic breeding and in the natural environment, it is unlikely that the inclusion of a domestic cat on this list will effectively mitigate its impact.

Already in 2011, an international study led by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) stated that feral cats are “one of the most harmful invasive species for vertebrate communities on islands.” Throughout history, its action in these environments has contributed to the extinction of at least 14% of extinct vertebrates, said the researcher at the CSIC’s Institute of Natural Products and Agrobiology, Manuel Nogales. Since the domestication of the African wild cat some 9,000 years ago, man has widely dispersed this species, which has established feral populations throughout the world, including in the most remote archipelagos, where its presence is particularly damaging. An example: at the end of the 19th century, the arrival on the island of Stephens (New Zealand) of the lighthouse keeper with his family, accompanied by his pregnant cat Tibblescaused the disappearance of an endemic species of the place: the bird Xenicus lyalli.

Feral cats hunt wild prey, even when fed, which has an impact on other species. The problem goes beyond Poland. According to the study led by Dr. Nogales, feral cats have already caused the extinction of 33 animal species. They also threaten 8% of species listed as critically endangered worldwide by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The inclusion of cats in the list of Polish invasive species has galvanized a debate that had been away from the general public for some time. Dr. Solarz has tried to placate public discontent with data. A discontent, the scientist ventured, which could be due to the fact that some media gave the false impression that his institute was asking for the euthanasia of wild cats. The expert stressed that all he was recommending was that cat owners limit the time their pets spend outdoors during bird breeding season. “I have a dog, but I have nothing against cats,” Solarz said.

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