What Iceland is doing about its cat problem

This article was initially featured onHakai Magazine,an internet publication about science and society in coastal ecosystems. Read extra tales like this athakaimagazine.com.

In the early months of the coronavirus lockdowns, my spouse shared with me a each day dose of cat movies. By shared, in fact, I imply she flipped the display screen of her cellphone and thrust it at me throughout the desk: Look! And for the following 10 minutes, wed scrollcat taking a bubble tub, cat robbing a fishmonger, cat taking part in the piano to an viewers of two cats and a canine. One afternoon, as I got here within the door, lined in snow, she greeted me with Cat Lawyera video of a Texas lawyer caught on kitten filter throughout a court docket case on Zoom. The snow melted off my hat, all around the cellular display screen, however we saved watching.

Cat Lawyer went viral in February 2021, a 12 months into the pandemic, once we had tried for a number of months to get an precise cat to reside with us in northern Iceland. Animal shelters had been empty, with tons of of disenchanted folks craving for the consolation and pleasure of a feline buddy. Icelandic cat breeders didn’t reply their telephones, and the native veterinary authority cracked down on unlawful kitten sellers for the primary time. Cats had been having the most effective 12 months because the invention of the internetit appeared.

Today, as Icelanders embrace freedom once more, Icelandic cats are combating for theirs.

In April, Akureyrithe largest municipality within the countrys north, with a inhabitants of 19,000 folks and a few 2,000 to three,000 catsdecided to ban their feline residents from evening roaming outdoors. Neighboring Hsavk banned cats a number of years in the past from going outdoor day and evening. Other Icelandic cities are contemplating bans as the problem of free-roaming cats more and more makes its approach from on-line boards to native politics, with the arguments usually falling into two classes. Some peoplethe no animals in my yard or NAIMBY-istsproclaim free-roaming cats are nuisances that needs to be confined like another pet. Others suppose past the anthropocentric: cats kill birds and disrupt ecosystems.

Domestic cats are hardly ever a part of an ecosystem, and regardless of hundreds of years of domestication, cats nonetheless favor their meals at 38Cthe lukewarm temperature of recent blood. They are much more just like their ancestors, African wildcats, than canines are to wolves. Their ear flaps, with 32 muscle tissues to rotate, are terribly fast at choosing up high-pitched seems like a mouses squeak. Their eyes are huge on a petite head and alter to obtainable mild just like the aperture of a digital camera. Whiskers give them a three-dimensional sense, their sheathed claws guarantee silence, they usually can soar vertically, as much as 5 instances their very own peak with out effort.

Introduce this elegant murderer to locations the place migratory birds have tailored to a land freed from pure predators and the harm will be irreversible, with some alarming examples worldwide. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Invasive Species Specialist Group lists cats as one of many 100 worst invasive species on this planet. Their paw prints are all around the scene. Numerous research have implicated cats within the international extinction of a minimum of 63 species40 birds, 21 mammals, two reptilesand contributed to the endangered standing of one other 587 species. And nowhere do cats, significantly unowned cats, trigger extra harm than on islands: free-roaming cat islanders are linked to a minimum of 14 p.c of worldwide hen, mammal, and reptile extinctions. In Iceland, a rustic with just one native terrestrial predator, cats have contributed to the dramatic decline of seabirds and have preyed on off-shore hen colonies.

Perhaps pandemic fatigue addled my mind, however solely the positiveslower stress ranges, for oneassociated with pet possession resonated with our household. Through a sequence of fortunate breaks, we lastly discovered a tabby cat we named Ronja, after the forest-dwelling Astrid Lindgren character. She is cute however, frankly, a menace to all issues dwelling, and my ankles: at any time when my toes cling away from bed or couch or a chair, Ronja takes it as an invite to assault. Death first got here on the within. Our houseplants died. Window flies she swallowed entire. Once the snow melted, I opened the window. And out she went.

Ronja, the authors cat, has the character of a serial killer. Egill Bjarnason

In a world the place we divide ourselves into cat folks or canine folks, Iceland has historically been the land of cat folks. The metropolis of Reykjavk banned canines for a lot of the final century, till 1984, primarily based on the concept they had been livestock. The citys bourgeoisie cats nap on geothermal-heated sidewalks and befriend world-famous guestsin 2011, theNew Yorkerrevealed Haruki Murakamis brief story Town of Cats, most likely impressed by his go to to the Reykjavik International Literary Festival, the place he famous the energetic cat scene. But the felines chef-duvre is inducing people into an annual show honoring the facility of cats: every December, the town vegetation a big metallic cat statue downtown at Lkjartorg sq. reverse the prime ministers workplace to rejoice the folkloric Yule Cat, a monster-sized creature whoin the spirit of Christmas!torments youngsters and eats them alive, particularly these not sporting new garments for the festivities.

This cat companionship is as previous because the nation itself. The Norse who mastered crusing from northern Europe to this middle-of-nowhere island some 1,150 years in the past possible had cats on board their ships. The first cat to place its paws on the stony beachlets name him Henry the Viking Cathad locations to raid. Iceland is, in primary geological phrases, a volcanic hotspot turned hen colony turned nation. When cats arrived, together with livestock, the one different terrestrial mammal was the Arctic fox, which had traveled through sea ice from Greenland, Russia, or North America sooner or later earlier than written information.

Its 10 PM. Do you know where your cat is?
A statue within the Icelandic metropolis of Reykjavk of an enormous cat thats imply to children. Deposit Photos.

Few wild animals consciously go for a home life. At the daybreak of agriculture, the cat agreed to kill just a few rodents in trade for leftovers andassuming historical cats had been as somnolent as fashionable catsplaces to nap for 12 to 18 hours of the day. Yes, cats performed social companions to needy people in historical timeskilling a cat was punishable by dying in historical Egyptbut their function was farm work. And this excellent association lasted, roughly talking, for 10,000 years.

Now we wish them to cease.

Surveys recommend Icelanders assist for cat curfews is highest in areas with non-public houses and personal gardens. Their reasoning is predominantly idiosyncratic, likening roaming cats to visits from rowdy city drunks. To paraphrase some on-line feedback about cat visitations: cat urine sprayed the patio, challenged one other cat to a 3:00a.m. duel and killed the yellow daffodils, final week he got here into the home, and the pharmacy is out of pet-allergy medicine. Cat supporters reply alongside the strains of, Get a life and attempt to tolerate the skin world; cats are a delight and have roamed Iceland so long as we’ve.

The ecological impression seems secondary to public coverage, evident when Hsavk, made well-known by the Netflix comedyEurovision Song Contest:The Story of Fire Saga, grew to become one of many first European cities to impose a complete cat curfew. Back in 2008, the talk started when an area feraldomesticated and unownedpopulation grew to become troublesome, maybe as a result of their inhabitants hit a tipping level. Cats get pregnant as early as 4 months previous, with one to 6 kittens per litter. A single feminine can get pregnant thrice a 12 months, and have over 150 descendants inside two years. The rising band of unowned cats in Hsavk started to hang around subsequent to a fish farm by the sting of city, snacking on land-grown char. At the identical timea pleased accident for the catsa geothermal drilling initiatives runoff water created a everlasting wetland for coastal birds to nest in. Spring got here, nesting started. Trouble began.

Its 10 PM. Do you know where your cat is?
The metropolis of Hsavk in northern Iceland, identified for its starring function within the film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, banned cats from outdoors in 2008. Deposit Photos.

Studies within the United States recommend feral cats trigger some 70 p.c of hen mortality, which is blamed on cats generally. The most blatant resolution to those Hsavk bandits would have been to cull unowned cats and, additional, ban all felines in rural elements of the municipality with the most important nesting websites. That would have upset farmers. Instead, native folks, who appeared to largely oppose cats as nuisance animals, used the chance to impose a cat curfew solelyinsidecity limits.

Menja von Schmalensee, an professional on invasive species on the West Iceland Nature Research Centre, says the continued cat wars are sometimes primarily based on idiosyncratic preferences, not science. There are locations the place feral cats ought to completely be banned outdoors, if not cats completely, she says. In different areas, such bans are overly drastic. My fear is that every group will comply with the loudest group no matter info.

All over the nation that very same story echoesparticularly from cliffs the place birds nest.


In 2007, Yann Kolbeinsson, armed with a laptop computer and a digital camera mounted on a bendable rod, carried out an annual summer season survey of Manx shearwaters on Heimaey, in Icelands Westman Islands archipelago. The seabirds are floor nesters on capes and cliffs and spend daytime hours at sea. Kolbeinsson would search for indicators of a nest and push the digital camera down a tunnel till it stopped at a burrow.

As he peeked inside, through the black-and-white reside stream of his digital camera, Kolbeinsson would write down transient observations, one after one other. Most days, entries went like this: empty, egg, empty, hen, egg, egg, egg, hen, empty, empty. One day, he recorded one thing completely new: cat eyes.

Four kittens stared straight into the digital camera. Just a little feral household was dwelling in a raided residence simply over one kilometer from the islands settlement of 4,300 folks.

This was not good.

Its 10 PM. Do you know where your cat is?
Seabirds, akin to Manx shearwaters, nest on capes and cliffs in Icelands Westman Islands archipelago. Deposit Photos.

On these 15 dome-shaped islands that make up the Westman Islands, the Manx shearwater created its largest colony in Iceland. A 1990 examine indicated a inhabitants of 6,000 breeding pairs, which now seems to be on the decline, although current analysis is murky. Seabird populations within the area are taking place, however researchers take into account the altering ocean meals internet probably the most vexing problem. Still, in lots of locations, feral cats are exacerbating the decline by attacking and consuming chicks.

Birds nest on offshore colonies exactly to keep away from land predators and take precautions to keep away from greater birds. The storm petrel, for example, stays out at sea throughout daylight to keep away from assault; cats have evening imaginative and prescient and are energetic at evening, particularly unowned cats. Kolbeinsson factors out that eradicating cats is not at all times a easy resolution since it will probably in flip make rats and micewhich may assault eggs and chicksextra prevalent.

And then there is toxoplasmosis, a illness brought on by a parasite few have heard of however many have already got of their our bodies. While the vast majority of human transmissions outcome from consuming uncooked meat, cats may unfold toxoplasmosis. Cats that hunt wild prey (which means indoor cats are harmless) are the one animals able to transmitting theToxoplasma gondiiparasite via their feces. Healthy folks hardly ever have signs, however the parasite can hurt human fetuses if a mom is contaminated throughout or proper earlier than being pregnant. (Advice for cat house owners: clear out the litter field each day. TheT. gondiiparasite doesn’t turn into infectious till one to 5 days after it is shed.) About 10 p.c of Icelanders have the parasite primarily based on a 2005 examine, as do some 40 million Americans, in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Its 10 PM. Do you know where your cat is?
TheToxoplasma gondiiparasites sturdy oocystseggseasily journey in recent water and the open ocean. Deposit Photos.

Wild and home cats are the one definitive hosts for transmission from the terrestrial atmosphere to the marine atmosphere; with out them the organism cant full its life cycle. The parasites sturdy oocystseggseasily journey in recent water and the open ocean. Toxoplasmosis infections have killed endangered Hawaiian monk seals and California sea otters. The parasite impacts birds, too, inflicting anorexia, diarrhea, respiratory misery, and probably dying. A examine of 10 species of seabirds within the western Indian Ocean discovered that 17 p.c of them carried antibodies towards toxoplasmosis. The alal, Hawaiis native crowwhich survives in captivity however is extinct within the wildalso carries antibodies towards the parasite. Its potential toxoplasmosis arrived in Hawaii with Europeans and their home cats.

Disease apart, it was feral cats murderous natures that impressed native exterminator Asmundur Plsson to behave following Kolbeinssons discovery. Plsson started taking pictures feral cats and laying traps by the foot of the hen colonies, all to guard our Manx shearwaters, he says.

Plsson killed about 40 animals the primary 12 months however finally gave up: some folks on the town saved sabotaging his effort by placing rocks within the traps. Two years earlier, Plsson, armed with a .22-caliber rifle, had worn out invasive bunniesthe European coney, native to France, Spain, and Portugalbut when it got here to cats, animal welfare appeared to outweigh ecological impression.

Its 10 PM. Do you know where your cat is?
Deposit Photos.

Instead, a gaggle of volunteers on the island arrange a shelter for feral and stray cats, training a method referred to as trap-neuter-release. But cats are solitary hunters that roam giant territories: it takes effort and time to deliver a single animal right into a shelter, and its virtually not possible to maintain up with inhabitants development. Plus, as soon as launched again into the wildnow neuteredandproperly nourishedthe cat is the identical predator, and all feral cats hunt.

Solitary habits additionally make cats exhausting to rely and clarify why international cat inhabitants estimates varysomeplacebetween 500 and 700 million and why estimating the ecological harm of cats has an enormous margin of error. Cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds yearly within the United States alone (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). The numbers are primarily based on meta-research pulling big-picture information from beforehand revealed articles estimating the variety of free-roaming cats and their urge for food for birds, akin to by utilizing abdomen and scat evaluation. A Canadian examine, making use of the same system, estimates that cats kill between two and 7 p.c of birds in southern Canada, the place most residents reside. The first-ever examine estimating the problem in China, revealed in 2021, blames cats for the annual dying of two.9 billion reptiles, 4 billion birds, and 6.7 billion mammals, on common, along with a staggering variety of invertebrates, frogs, and fishes.

These findings implicate cats as the one best supply of anthropogenic mortality for birdsa greater risk than window and constructing collisions. Even worse than vehicles and poisoning? The cuddly, cuddly cat.


Why are cats so cuddly to people? They rub towards our legs, lick our noses, and knead our stomachs. Its as if we’re one other cat to themand by one concept, that is what we’re. Cat conduct researcher John Bradshaw claims that cats see people as greater cats. Based on how smaller cats rub on greater cats when dwelling collectively, they most likely see us as barely superior kitties however relatively clumsy, by cat requirements. Bradshaw, in his e bookCat Sense, rejects the notion that cats deliver their prey inside as a present. Cats, relatively, have the tendency to deliver prey to a spot the place they really feel protected, however as soon as the feeding begins, they rememberah, wild meat tastes worse than the chicken-based cat meals within the subsequent room.

Cats kill much more birds than most individuals think about, and their house owners seem to typically maintain the denialism of a guardian unable to simply accepttheircat as murderous. In one 2013 examine, researchers within the US Southeast affixed kitty cam physique cameras to cats to watch their looking: they returned solely 23 p.c of prey to the home. As a cat proprietor, I had assumed the six or seven birds Ronja introduced inside her first summer season was all she had caught. Each time, I used to be shocked, nevertheless it took a wounded whimbrel, a shorebird, combating for its life on the lounge flooring for me to simply accept the problem. Ronja has the character of a serial killer. About one-third of pet cats, thoughts you, are just like the caricature character Garfield. For the Garfields, looking is not well worth the effort, or just for the uncommon event. Some breeds are extra harmful than others. But for many cats, both theyve obtained a killer character or not: amongst owned cats, solely round 20 p.c are thought of tremendous hunters, so good at their craft {that a} single bell round their neck will do little to kill their ambition.

Its 10 PM. Do you know where your cat is?
Domestic cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds yearly within the United States alone (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). Deposit Photos.

At the pet retailer, the shopkeeper informed me a single bell merely confirmed effort on the house owners half; at greatest a bell the scale of a marble reduces the cats effectiveness by half, however a number of research recommend subsequent to no impact. Larger bells work higher however in addition they make noise if the cat is wandering like a Swiss cow round the home at evening, inflicting stress to the hyper-hearing cat. The shopkeeper informed me to strive a ruffled collar along with a bell. The colourful material collar, resembling that of a clown, is the antithesis of camouflage and makes the cat, a minimum of within the springtime, 19 instances much less efficient than an unencumbered cat. In the autumn, nevertheless, the ruffled collars make the cat solely 3.4 instances much less efficient. And the collars generally fall off. Another choice worn across the neck is an extended, colourful plastic bib. This contraption is a pounce protector, stopping cats from reducing their heads to the bottom. The keto eating regimen is one other potential resolution. A managed 2021 examine of 355 cats in England discovered that cats on a grain-free, high-meat-protein eating regimen hunted about 40 p.c fewer birds than these consuming the low-end dry meals.

But none of these methods stop cats from attacking hen nests. Friends recommended leashing Ronja within the yard. The American Veterinary Medical Association endorses a coverage that encourages cat house owners to restrict out of doors life to out of doors enclosures, akin to cat patiosso-called catiosor to being on anattendedleash, efficient if coaching begins when a cat is younger. Icelandic veterinary colleagues have spoken out towards cat curfews. Although some cats, who have no idea the rest, settle for being indoor cats, there are others who don’t deal with it and confinement can result in stress and aggressive conduct, the Icelandic Veterinary Association wrote in an announcement final 12 months. The affiliation does, nevertheless, assist nighttime curfews, particularly within the spring when birds nest, since thats when cats are only as hunters. (Research suggests the nocturnal conduct applies extra strongly to unowned cats.)

Its 10 PM. Do you know where your cat is?
In Hsavk, the place pet cats are banned from being outdoors, a one-year-old named Freddie Mercury enjoys his cat patioa catio. Egill Bjarnason

We determined to maintain Ronja inside utterly in the course of the nesting season and stopped tolerating her admirable escapes. I purchased a number of scrumptious fish jerky for treats and informed her that, the truth is, some indoor cats reside virtually 4 instances as lengthy. She placed on extreme weight to show us mistaken.


We have at all times liked and loathed cats. The Japanese maneki-nekothe beckoning cat, with one paw raised and wavingsymbolizes luck; a run-of-the-kitty-mill black cat signifies in poor health fortune. Catholic monks burned cats alive in the course of the European witch-hunt period; Islam admires them for cleanliness. Surveys recommend that in elements of Iceland about 50 p.c of residents need cats banned from outdoors. The debate itself is new. People accepted roaming neighborhood cats, by no means questioning the knowledge, till others started questioning the, pardon the pun, catus quo.

An perspective shift is occurring. The cat curfew has modified the best way folks consider cats, says cat proprietor Rull Reyr, who has lived in Hsavk most of his life. When a young person sees a cat outdoors in the present day, they seem provoked, as if theyve noticed an undesirable visitor of their neighborhood.

In Australia, two municipalities in Melbourne launched cat curfews: Monash in 2021 and Knox in 2022. Earlier, in 2015, the nation launched into a mission to cull two million feral cats. From mid-2015 to mid-2018, Australia killed 844,000 feral cats with poison and traps. In Europe, two Dutch regulation professors, writing in an environmental regulation journal, argued that permitting free-roaming cats violates the Nature Directives, the oldest European Union laws on the atmosphere. Citing research of cats impression on birds, the authors conclude that cat house owners should handle their free-roaming cats and stray and feral cats should be eliminated or managed after they pose a risk to protected species.

Last November, the city of Akureyri voted to ban out of doors cats completely as of 2025. Outraged cat supporters all around the nation threatened to boycott the cities well-known dairy merchandise in protest. A neighborhood artist rallied assist for the Cat Party forward of native elections scheduled this previous May. So, 4 weeks earlier than election day, the ruling majority softened the overall ban to a nighttime curfew, and the talk retains going, outlined by idiosyncratic fervor.

Environmental safety businesses in Iceland have, to this point, prevented the talk publicly, maybe explaining why the problem stays underexplored. The estimated variety of cats roaming the nation stays a query mark. In Akureyri, in accordance with native legal guidelines, pet house owners have registered solely 200 cats, a fraction of the overall inhabitants. Stronger information helps perceive probably the most elementary questions: by banning cats outdoors, will the inhabitants of birds in Iceland enhance? Experts are not sure of the reply, since most cats roam inside cities and most birds nest outdoors them. Will Icelanders get pleasure from extra birds of their yard with out cats? Quite probably, and that is when the query comes right down to our values: a 2021 paper inEcological Economicsprimarily based on financial information from 26,000 Europeans discovered neighborhood birds make folks as pleased as cash. A ten p.c enhance in hen species within the atmosphere raised life satisfaction about 1.53 instances greater than the same proportional rise in revenue. On the opposite hand, we launch the soothing cuddle chemicaloxytocinwhen petting a cat, the identical enjoyment we get from social bonding with our personal type. Cat possession is additionally a confirmed methodology for serving to the rising variety of lonely folks to really feel related.

Ronja was the third phrase my one-year-old son discovered to talk after mama and dudda (baby-Icelandic for pacifier). When the cat disappeared in the future in December, the household was devastated: there had been a foul snowstorm, and I had closed the window earlier than going to mattress, assuming the cat was asleep in the lounge. The subsequent morning, there have been paw prints within the snow, getting in circles under the shut window. After two days Ronja-less, I started leaving work early to stroll round city, following cat steps via the snow, like a cartoon detective, into non-public gardens and parks. Twice, I requested householders with an open basement window to go downstairs and examine for her. I alerted all group Facebook teams and recruited youngsters to assist me. I started assuming she was lifeless, and was already engaged on my grief.

I really like birds, so perhaps Ronjas loss would depart me freed from guilt. But I additionally love Ronja, and I used to be ecstatic six nights after she went lacking, round 2:00a.m. when she leaped via an open window and strolled into our bed room. She allowed us to greet her with awkward enthusiasm earlier than shifting tohernook of the mattress. So now, like many cat house owners, I exist in a state of cognitive dissonance with regards to my cat and my atmosphere. But I do hold her inside at evening.

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