The Institute of Nature Conservation in Poland has classified domestic cats as an “invasive alien species,” evoking an emotional response from Polish pet parents.
Felis catus – the common housecat’s scientific name – is now on a list of 1,787 animals the Institute considers foreign.
The institution, a branch of the Polish Academy of Sciences, cited the damage cats cause to birds and other wildlife as justification for its decision. They also noted the domestic cat is foreign to Europe from a “purely scientific” perspective.
Where Domestic Cats Came From
A study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution examined DNA from over 200 cats spanning more than 9,000 years and determined domestic cats descend from two genetic lineages.
One ancestor spread from southwest Asia into Europe as early as 4400 B.C.E. and likely assisted farmers with rodent control. Over time, they became accustomed to living with or around humans.
The other, consisting of the African cats prominent in Egypt, made their way into the Mediterranean and beyond around 1500 B.C.E. Like the modern housecat, these were likely social and tame.
Researchers say the two lineages likely intermingled. That could explain why domestic and wildcats have relatively little genetic variation compared to other species, such as dogs.
Misunderstandings & Misgivings
Wojciech Solarz, a biologist at the Polish Academy of Sciences, didn’t expect the backlash.
“I have a dog, but I don’t have anything against cats,” Solarz told the Associated Press.
He told the publication some media reports created a false impression that the institute was calling for feral cats to be euthanized, which was not the intention. To clarify, the institute posted its position on its website, stating its opposition “to any cruelty towards animals.”
The institute further clarified that it was only recommending cat parents limit their pets’ time outdoors during bird breeding season.
According to Solarz, cats kill about 140 million birds in Poland every year.
However, many say cats are getting an unfair share of the blame.
Dorota Suminska, a veterinarian and author, debated Solarz on TV. She cited other factors such as diminishing biodiversity, pollution, and building facades contributing to bird deaths.
“Ask if man is on the list of non-invasive alien species,” Suminska said.