Zürcher Tierschutz, a Zurich-based group, maintains that Switzerland’s cat population needs to be controlled because felines are threatening wildlife.
The group’s campaign, launched earlier this year, recently caught the attention of the French media, including Le Monde newspaper, which at the weekend drew a parallel between the decision in February by Swiss voters to set immigration quotas and the bid now to set quotas on cats.
Zürcher Tierschutz estimates there 1.4 million cats in the country, whose human population is just over 8.1 million.
Claudia Kistler, co-author of a study on cats for the group, said measures are needed to stabilize or reduce the cat population to protect wildlife, including small mammals, birds and reptiles.
“We have calculated that the density of cats in Zurich is 430 cats per square kilometre,” Kistler told Le Matin Dimanche newspaper earlier this year.
“By comparison there are 10 to 15 fox for the same area.”
François Turrian, director of ASPO/Bird Life Suisse in French-speaking Switzerland, said the Zurich animal protection group’s proposal at least merits debate.
Going after cats is still a “taboo” in Switzerland, Turrian told Le Matin Dimanche.
“But let’s stop putting our heads in the sand: the cat is a great predator,” he said.
“It kills birds, small mammals, lizards, amphibians, dragonflies.”
Turrian said the green lizard had disappeared from certain areas of the canton of Valais and was rapidly declining in Geneva because of cats.
Zürcher Tierschutz’s Kistler said a program to castrate cats was needed to control the population although she said the measures had to be voluntary rather than compulsory.
But since the proposal for the one cat per household idea first emerged earlier this year in the Zurich press it has faced a mauling from cat lovers.
“Your country is very advanced in the protection of animals,” Georges Chaputhier, a French biologist and philosopher told Le Matin Dimanche.
“You were among the first to register dogs for example,” Chaputhier noted.
“It’s not surprising that this proposal would come from Switzerland. But frankly, I do not see how such a measure could be implemented.”
One problem would be what to do with the surplus cats, he said.
Dennis C. Turner, a British professor at the University of Zurich and a specialist in cats and dogs, is among those opposed to the one-cat, one household proposal.
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Turner, a research associate at the institute of evolutionary biology and environmental studies, told Le Matin Dimanche that the idea there were too many cats in Switzerland was “completely unfounded”.
Switzerland may have more cats on a per capita basis than other countries because dogs are not permitted in many apartment buildings, he said.
“But Rome has 2,000 cats per square kilometre and there are 2,350 in a Japanese fishing village — don’t tell me that Switzerland suffers from an overpopulation of cats.”
Turner, who is director of the Institute for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology, said the proposal to limit cats may even be illegal.
Swiss animal protection law, for example, requires that guinea pigs must be owned in pairs so why should cats be forced into a solitary condition?
Federal veterinary affairs officials maintain cats should have daily contact with humans and at least visual contact regularly with other cats.