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Israel – Jerusalem’s dilemma over stray cats

The concentration of stray cats in the Holy City is among the highest in the Middle East or even the world, experts say.

With nearly 2,000 cats per square kilometer (mile), it has a total of some 240,000, in a city of more than 900,000 residents, the Israeli official in charge of its veterinarian services, Asaf Bril, said.

Jerusalem’s newly elected mayor, Moshe Lion, announced in January the creation of feeding stations around the city, with the food in granule form notably, and budgeted 100,000 shekels ($28,000, 24,000 euros) a year for the scheme.

The decision aims to provide a transition that is clean and more controlled between the current, free-for-all access to the bins and their eventual removal.

The sterilization was not acceptable to everyone. In 2015, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel refused to use $4.5 million (four million euros) in government funding made available for the sterilization of stray cats.

As an Orthodox Jew, the minister had said that castrating cats was contrary to Jewish religious law and had proposed sending stray cats and dogs to other countries instead.

Associations and volunteers have sought to fill the void for what they complain is a lack of political will and public funding.

Fixed feeding areas can also prove problematic since the food attracts other animals, including jackals which have been spotted in some Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Some of the wild animals carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans, such as rabies and leishmaniasis.

The challenge was striking the right balance between protecting the cats and the environment.

“Wild cats are active in the night time. They eat rodents.”

“Domestic cats, like gutter cats, depend on people, are active in the daytime and hunt small animals — lizards, reptiles and small birds.”

When there are too many cats, “as is the case currently in Jerusalem and in a number of large Israeli cities, they threaten those species”