Animal rights organisation Dier&Recht has launched a campaign to stop feral cats being shot in Friesland, which is the last of the 12 Dutch provinces to allow the practice.
In 2021, over 250 feral cats were shot in the northern province, in 2020 447. Figures for 2022 have not yet been finalised. The province’s main justification for shooting cats is the danger they present to wild birds.
But Dier&Recht argues that feral cats have little to do with the decline in the wild bird population. ‘The cause is intensive farming, which is damaging biodiversity,’ Dier&Recht vet Kelly Kessen told the AD. ‘Mowing agricultural land alone destroys numerous nests and birds.’
‘Yes, cats catch birds, but they would rather catch rats and mice,’ she said. ‘So if you castrate a cat, you have largely solved the problem.’
Dier&Recht has already taken the province to court about feral cat hunting but lost. An appeal against that decision is now pending. As extra pressure, the organisation has launched a petition.
Experts, however, disagree about the role of feral cats in killing wild birds. Albert de Jong, of bird research organisation Sovon told the AD said cats are regularly spotted in fields. ‘It is not difficult to guess what they will they do if they come across chicks,’ he said.
Bird protection group Vogelbescherming agrees that intensive farming is the main cause of the decline in the wild bird population but says cats are also an important factor.
‘The Netherlands has three million domestic cats and a large number of feral ones,’ spokesman Ruud van Beusekom told the AD. ‘They eat some 18 million birds a year, according to figures from Wageningen University.’
Efforts have also been made to curb the problems caused by domestic cats. In 2021, a Dutch foundation failed in its efforts force the government to take action against people who let their cats roam freely outdoors. Individual ministers have also refused to take steps.
Ecologists have also called for a curfew for cats. And in 2019, a paper by Tilburg university environmental law professors Arie Trouwborst and Han Somsen in the Journal of Environmental Law argued that the domestic cat (Felix Catus) is posing a serious threat to some 370 species in the Netherlands.
Under the European Bird and Habitat Directives countries have a legal obligation to protect wildlife, so allowing cats to roam and kill is illegal, the researchers said.
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