Tel Aviv struggling with large feral cat population

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Feral cats are prevalent in Tel Aviv, Israel, where government efforts to control the population are too small to make a real dent. (Photo by Zak Rosen.)

Living in the center of Tel Aviv, one of the first things you notice are all the free roaming cats.

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A recent study from Tel Aviv University estimated about 39,000 of them live in Tel Aviv. That’s almost one cat for every 10 people in the city.

Except, unlike the people, a lot of the cats look sick. But that's not say that they're just waiting for someone to scoop them up and take them home.

Riva Mayer, who is the overseas development director of Let the Animals Live, an Israel-based animal welfare organization, said these cats are not meant to live indoors.

“They were born on the streets and that’s where they’re comfortable. They don’t know anything else. And they don’t want to be inside the flat, because the feral cats, they cannot live inside the flat, the closed areas make them frightened," she said.

Most street cats in Israel only live to be one or two years old. But despite their short lives, they manage to reproduce at amazing speed.

“In Israel the rate of birth (for cats) is very high. Three times a year they give birth and then when their kittens are about five to six months old, they give birth again,” Mayer said.

Dr. Zvi Galin, the Director of the Veterinary Department of Tel Aviv-Yafo, said even though these cats don’t have owners, thousands of people in Tel Aviv feed them every day. That's part of why there are so many cats in Tel Aviv — because of all the people who feed them.

In the late 1980s, Riva Myer was one of the people who brought the idea of spaying and neutering to Israel's wild cats. Before that, population control meant poisoning them.

Now that’s illegal, and spaying and neutering has become the norm.

But Mayer said it’s hasn’t become part of the culture yet. And that there needs to be more emphasis on the amount of cats getting fixed.

“The municipality of Tel Aviv has good intentions, but they don’t keep up with the amount of cats being born on the streets. They have to do at least 100 spaying and neutering a day to keep up with the rate of cats giving birth at the moment," she said.

“We can do 10 cats today, so 10 cats are going to reproduce less kittens,” Galin said. “It’s something. For me if I can help one, I can help one. It would be good to help thousands, but I can’t do it.”

But for the street cat population to decrease, research shows at least 80 percent of the cats need to be spayed and neutered.

As of now, Tel Aviv is not meeting that mark.