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November 21, 2014 | 28th Cheshvan 5775

Sustainability III

Galilee Diary #584, August 15, 2012
Marc Rosenstein

They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.
-Genesis 7:14-15

Planning a vacation to Crete, we were interested to read in some of the hotel reviews references to the multitude of cats that are ubiquitous and annoying, including in hotel dining rooms. We are looking forward to comparing notes, as every visitor to Israel, and everyone who lives here, is very aware of the feral cats that are such a distinctive feature of our urban landscape. I suspect that the tourists in Crete writing their complaints had not stopped off here on the way. Tossing the household garbage into the Shorashim dumpster often elicits an explosion of cat energy, as they come flying out the various openings of the container; and on my early Tuesday morning walk from my hotel to HUC in Jerusalem, there are a few corners where I always have to navigate a herd (Flock? School? Pack?) of scrawny cats dining on a breakfast put out for them by cat-loving residents of the neighborhood. Indeed, we even have a small colony of about half a dozen feral cats here at Shorashim that are fed by one of our members, outside his office in the central plaza of the moshav, and that lie around on the picnic furniture, lazily observing the passing traffic.

Recently we had a guest speaker at Shorashim, the father of one of our members, a retired professor of zoology. He has studied the research on wild domestic dogs and cats, and the picture that he presented was not pretty. The population explosion of such animals, in places with moderate climates, has been enormous, and their population density is hundreds of times what it would be in a wild environment. And since, no matter how well fed they are, their hunting instinct does not diminish, it follows that the population of their natural prey is under severe pressure. If all they hunted were mice and rats, that might be good news. But they are equally happy pouncing on songbirds, or benign snakes and lizards and frogs which have their own place in the balance of predators, prey, and human pests (eating insects, for example). In short, it seems that the human-facilitated population explosion of these invasive species is not doing us any good in the long run.

What can be done? The solutions seem simple, but have proven very difficult to implement. One method that has been proposed – and tried – is to capture and sterilize the feral animals. However, it turns out that this is only effective if it succeeds in covering virtually all the animals in a wide geographical area; otherwise, local migration, and the successful reproduction of the few who escape the sterilizers' clutches, soon lead to a return to rapid population growth. The other main method would be simply to deny feral cats a ready supply of food. This requires that cat lovers who feed feral cats in quantity must refrain from this practice. Good luck with that! And it requires that garbage dumpsters be made cat-proof. Israel may be a high-tech superpower, but this low-tech challenge has thus far proven too much for us. Much of Israel's household garbage is collected in neighborhood dumpsters, made of heavy steel, with plastic doors and sliding lid mechanisms for emptying them. These various closures seem to have an effective life of just a few weeks – no sooner are they replaced or repaired, when the wear and tear of frequent rough dumping leaves them shattered or twisted, providing easy feline access.

We may be on the way to a silent spring, but not as Rachel Carson imagined it.

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