Efforts to cull stray cats in the Fljótsdalshérað district of East Iceland have met with severe criticism from a local organization that aims to safely monitor and release or else find homes for these villikettir, or wild cats, RÚV reports.
Villikettir á Austurlandi, or ‘Wild Cats in East Iceland,’ is a nonprofit that operates under the auspices of the Villikettir animal welfare organization. Per the description on their Facebook page, the organization aims to “care for wild and homeless cats in the region, providing them with shelter and food. The organization operates according to the ethos of TNR: Trap – Neuter – Release.” The aim of this approach is to control the population of wild cats without killing them. The cats taken in by Villikettir are dewormed and vaccinated before the staff attempts to get them used to being around people and find them homes. If the cats can’t be tamed, they are released again, but the organization ensures that they have access to shelter and food.
Villikettir has struck agreements with six municipalities to take the lead on controlling their wild cat populations, but Fljótsdalshérað rejected their assistance. Instead, the municipality intends to set traps for wild cats. Residents have been told to keep their pet cats indoors at night from February 18 to March 8. Any wild cats that are caught during this time period will be euthanized. Villikettir asked to take possession of these cats so they would not be put down, but their request was denied.
Fljótsdalshérað mayor Björn Ingimarsson says the municipality is acting in accordance to the law. After consultation with the Public Health Authority and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), he says, it’s clear that it isn’t permissible to collaborate with Villikettir under the terms that organization has set out. A letter from MAST on the subject notes that wild cats are categorized as semi-wild animals and must either be provided with a permanent home or euthanized. Likewise, it is not permissible to release animals that have grown up with people into the wild. Villikettir cannot, according to the letter, guarantee these animals the welfare required by current laws related to domestic animals. The ear tagging system that the organization suggested is also said to be illegal.
Villikettir á Austurlandi says that in the year it has been operational, it has provided services for 54 cats, most of which were found new and permanent homes. Only six cats needed to be released back into the wild.