Clinic wants to reduce numbers, birth rates as homeless felines face daily struggle to survive
At Forodhani park, a popular culinary arena in Zanzibar’s historical Stone Town, tourists leisurely strolling on a labyrinth of narrow streets have always sympathized with cats aggressively mewing while jostling for leftovers.
“There are many beautiful cats. Surprisingly, local people don’t like them and nobody wants to adopt them,” said Richard Hayward, a tourist from the UK.
The park, known for its sumptuous seafood, draws hundreds of daily revelers — and a colony of stray cats.
“These cats live a hard life. Children often pelt stones at them,” said Hayward
But, a veterinary facility in Zanzibar, the Paka clinic, has made a name for itself by showing love and empathy for the cats, neutering them to help improve their welfare and control their rising population.
The archipelago off the coast of Tanzania has one of the biggest population of stray cats in the region.
In the popular spot on the island, the clinic, named after the Swahili word for cat, provides medical care before releasing the cats where they were found, said officials.
A worsening plight
Chief veterinarian Goodluck Gaudence said the clinic was concerned about the hardships that the cats face and determined to improve their lives by easing their suffering.
“We realized that there are many cats that need our attention. We visit colonies that we are monitoring twice a week to attend to sick cats,” he told Anadolu Agency.
The clinic does not offer the felines shelter but provides care until they have finished treatment and ready to return to the streets, he said.
Laura Nicholas, an animal behaviorist at the clinic, said the decision to neuter was prompted by the rising population of strays who struggle just to survive.
“We discovered that female cats get pregnant pretty quickly. In one year, a female cat can give birth to up to six kittens,” she said.
Nicholas said the neutering campaign helped control the population and improve the cats’ well-being, underlining the importance of spaying female cats “before she can have kittens herself.”
Paka clinic vets believe sterilizing cats was the best way to reduce their numbers and birth rates.
Neutering males and spaying females can prevent unwanted pregnancies, curbs unwanted behavioral patterns associated with sexual maturity, and reduces the risk of certain diseases, according to doctors at the clinic.
“Although male cats don’t have kittens themselves and it only takes one male to make lots of female cats pregnant,” said Nicholas, spaying a female cat “potentially limits numbers.”
She said kittens reach sexual maturity and become capable of breeding and producing kittens at four months old.
About 498 female cats and 42 male cats were sterilized last year, according to the clinic. It said that in August this year, its staff had sterilized more than 100 cats in five days.
After doing so, they tag the animals on one ear to show that it had been sterilized, explained Gaudence, the chief veterinarian.
Transferable vet skills
Paka clinic offers free veterinary services to Zanzibaris to ensure that the island’s high poverty rate is not a barrier to accessing veterinary care.
“Many cats get sick and die because they don’t have access to medical treatment,” said Gaudence.
Abandoned and left to fend for themselves, residents said street cats are neglected and often beaten.
“There are just too many cats. We call them Kimburu. If you aren’t careful, they can steal your food right out of your hands,” said local resident Zuwena Maulid Ali.
Gaudence said the clinic offers veterinary skills and promotes animal welfare by educating communities about how to take care of their pets.
He said Zanzibaris cooperated with veterinarians, frequently sending their pets to the clinic for treatment.
The clinic is also supervising a program for foreigners to adopt pets.