It would take 500 to 600 years to bring Cyprus’ roughly one million stray cat population under control within the current sterilisation programme, lawmakers heard on Wednesday.
Only about 1,500-2,000 cats are neutered each year, according to deputy chairman of the House environment committee and Akel MP Nikos Kettiros.
As lawmakers discussed the sterilisation programme, Disy MP Savia Orphanidou praised the cabinet’s move last April to raise the state funding to €100,000, while main opposition party Akel said even that amount is unlikely to resolve the issue.
Orphanidou said that the EU target of reaching 75 per cent sterilisation amongst the strays is a top priority and would increase their quality of life.
Cyprus’ staggering stray cat population has long troubled animal welfare activists who fear for their wellbeing.
Akel cited animal welfare NGOs as estimating the stray cat population to be at one million – meaning that there may be more cats than humans – while authorities have said that they are unable to calculate the number of feral felines.
A previous government sponsored sterilisation programme was scrapped following the 2013 financial crisis, only recently brought back in 2019 but not until the cat population boomed.
Cat shelters and feeding stations have popped up across the island, but such care is almost exclusively provided for by non-profit NGOs and animal lovers at their own expense and initiative.
The cat neutering scheme is offered under the agriculture ministry’s animal protection and welfare policy. It is open to municipal and local councils and registered animal welfare organisations who must apply to the vet services for grants to fund cat neutering programmes.
Reports of cats – strays and pets alike – being killed or severely mistreated frequently surface in the media, leading to increased public pressure on authorities to address the issue of animal abuse.
More recently, in neighbouring Greece – which also faces a chronic oversaturation of stray cats, police arrested a man who taunted, tricked and kicked a cat into the sea by a taverna. The incident was captured on camera and uploaded to social media, sparking outrage.
Last year, an animal welfare police unit comprised of 16 officers was set up amid accusations that abuse cases are not taken seriously or thoroughly investigated.