The native Scottish wildcat population is already in jeopardy, but there are now wider concerns that the situation is reaching a “tipping point” which could see the country’s cat population “colonise uncontrollably” and damage native wildlife.
The Scottish Government said it would need to look “very carefully” at the call in a petition which also has the backing of the Scottish SPCA. There are currently an estimated 880,000 pet cats in Scotland, with a further 400,000 “feral” cats on the loose north of the border.
Dr Ellie Stirling, who lodged the petition, says she has been involved in the neutering and return of about 4,000 feral cats to their natural environment, over the past 20 years. She warns that abandoned and feral cats often suffer “atrocious conditions, disease, injuries and unspeakable deaths”.
About 13 per cent of owners keep their cats un-neutered in Scotland, Dr Stirling’s petition states, and even this is an underestimate.
“The voluntary approach has gone as far as it can go,” she states.
“A new approach is needed with immediate impact if a tipping point into environmental disaster is to be prevented.”
She points to Australia where wildlife has been “eradicated” when cats take over large swathes of territory, or the US where “kill shelters” are the norm.
She now wants to see the Code of Practice which accompanies the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act beefed up so that all pet cats owned in Scotland must be both neutered and micro-chipped. A licensing scheme would then allow “responsible breeding” of cats, but kittens would then be neutered at no more than four months of age at the breeder’s expense.
Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “We recommend that owners get their cat neutered to avoid unwanted pregnancies and support microchipping so if they do go missing they can be reunited with owners quickly.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise the risks that uncontrolled and un-neutered cats can pose to Scotland’s wildlife. We support programmes aimed at responsible ownership and voluntary neutering of cats and would need to look very carefully at any scheme that proposed new legislation in this area.”