There is a Brazilian island called Ilha Furtada that has the nickname Ilha dos Gatos. For those who are curious, said nickname translates to “Island of Cats,” which is a reference to the unknown number of cats that inhabit the place. Unfortunately, recent events have caused a crisis, thus making Ilha Furtada a political issue.
How Did the Island of Cats Come into Existence?
It isn’t clear how Ilha Furtada became Ilha dos Gatos. However, there are multiple stories about said topic. One story says that a family tried to make a living on the deserted island before giving up, with the result that their cats were left behind. Another story says that a restaurant closed its doors, with the result that the restaurant owners abandoned their cats there. Whatever the case, Ilha Furtada has long since been established as a place for locals to abandon their unwanted cats.
To a considerable extent, this is fueled by a widespread belief that Ilha Furtada is an excellent habitat for unwanted cats. Essentially, the chain of reasoning is that unwanted cats shouldn’t be abandoned in cities because urban landscapes offer them few sources of food. Instead, Ilha Furtada is a better choice because it is home to both fauna and flora, meaning that there is an ecosystem that can support a few more inhabitants. Unfortunately, this isn’t true even if one ignores the damage that even a small number of cats can do to an unprepared ecosystem within a very short period of time. Ilha Furtada isn’t capable of supporting the sheer number of cats that can be found there. After all, it doesn’t even have a single reliable source of freshwater, which is every bit as problematic for cats as it is for humans.
On its own, this would be bad enough. A lack of resources causes the number of hungry cats to shoot up. At the very minimum, this means a huge increase in suffering over an extended period of time. However, this causes other serious issues, with examples ranging from increased chances of serious medical problems to increased competition over limited resources. There are local cat lovers who make an effort to help out whenever and wherever possible, but even so, it isn’t enough. Something that can be seen in the bodies of the cats that live on Ilha Furtada.
In recent times, the situation has become much, much worse. The COVID-19 crisis has caused a lot of cats to become unwanted. In some cases, these animals have become unwanted because their owners are no longer capable of caring for them, whether because they have died or because they have suffered some kind of impairment to their previous capabilities. Meanwhile, other cases have seen cat owners take serious hits to their finances, so much so that they are forced to cut their expenditures to keep themselves afloat. In the developed world, this has put a serious strain on shelters as well as other animal welfare organizations. However, they remain functional for the most part.
Unfortunately, Brazil has been much harder-hit by the COVID-19 crisis. For those who are curious, the country has seen hundreds of thousands of deaths, with the result that its casualties make up a meaningful percentage of total world casualties. Something that can be blamed in considerable part on less than satisfactory leadership at the highest levels of Brazilian government. As such, Brazilian cat owners have been much harder-hit than their counterparts in the developed world, thus resulting in more unwanted cats. Furthermore, Brazilian shelters and other animal welfare organizations are less well-founded than their counterparts in the developed world, meaning that they haven’t been able to manage said trend as well.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this means that the number of cats on Ilha Furtada has exploded. Something that has worsened the situation because the available resources are no more abundant than before. In fact, there have been stories of cats eating other cats on the island, which speaks volumes about their living conditions. Due to this kind of thing, there is now considerable pressure on local authorities to do something, thus turning Ilha Furtada into a political issue.
What Will Be Done about the Island of Cats?
The problem is that there is no clear solution to Ilha Furtada. Local authorities have suggested forbidding people from feeding the cats on the island. Essentially, their chain of reasoning is that said activities are contributing to the perception that Ilha Furtada is a place where unwanted cats can survive, thus increasing the number of people choosing to abandon their unwanted cats there. From this perspective, the feeding is a short-term fix that is worsening the long-term situation. Naturally, there are a lot of people who see this as a second abandonment of the already abandoned cats, which has resulted in much outrage. Feeding the cats might encourage people to abandon their unwanted cats on the island, but at least it doesn’t mean leaving the existing cat population to suffer even more.
It is worth mentioning that there were previous efforts to bring the problem under control, which were much the same as similar programs in similar places in other countries. Essentially, people worked to identify the cats that can get used to human presence and the cats that can’t get used to human presence. This is important because the first group can be brought in by shelters as well as other animal welfare organizations before being adopted out to interested individuals. Meanwhile, the second group is also important because they can be either spayed or neutered before being released back into the environment. This enables them to live out their lives. Simultaneously, this prevents them from breeding more cats, which is important because feline reproduction means that a cat population can increase at a rapid pace. Combined with efforts to provide food as well as other necessities, said efforts were working to mitigate the suffering on Ilha Furtada before the COVID-19 crisis destroyed the precarious balance that had been achieved.
Now, it remains to be seen what will happen. There are humane solutions to the problem. However, the problem with humane solutions is that they are both laborious and time-consuming, meaning that they put a serious demand on resources at a time when a major disaster has hit every aspect of Brazilian society. As such, there is just no easy solution to the situation on Ilha Furtada.