Puerto Rico’s historic district has long been populated by hundreds of cats who merrily scamper around the streets of San Juan.
Beloved by both tourists and residents, the animals also have a dedicated statue in Old San Juan.
Known as “cobblestone” or “colonial” cats, the animals roam the seaside paths around “El Morro”, a historic fort that guarded San Juan during the colonial era. Some of them approach humans looking for food, while others crouch in the bushes.
Despite their popularity, the U.S. National Park Service wants to implement a “free-ranging cat management plan” to face the growth of the cats’ population. Options include removing the cats from the streets.
The proposal was not accepted by several people, who consider the cats an important part of the historic district.
I don’t know how these people dare face the world with their proposal.Alfonso Ocasio, residents of San Juan
However, not everyone loves them. According to the National Park Service, the presence of the cats produces an unpleasant smell of urine and feces.
Encounters between visitors and cats and the smell of urine and feces are … inconsistent with the cultural landscape.The National Park Service
Moreover, the National Park Service highlighted in the plan that the measure would improve the tourist experience by protecting cultural and natural resources, and reducing health and safety concerns. It also added that removing the animals would reduce “nuisance issues” and protect the wildlife in the area.
Authorities have not made a decision yet. Officials are offering two options: either removing the cats or keeping them where they are.
The second option also includes the maintenance of feeding areas, neutering the animals, and removing the cats that have not been tagged. All these mansions are currently performed by Save a Gato (SAG), a non-profit organization that has an agreement with The National Park Service to manage the cats on national park land. The NGO operates thanks to donations and the work of local volunteers.
To address the issue, the National Park Service has organized two public meetings. The first one was held last Wednesday, but, instead of a public hearing, people were asked to write down their comments.
The crowd demanded a public hearing and, after some moments of tensions, the officials allowed people to speak one by one. The biggest concern of the crowd was that the cats would be euthanized. Other people questioned what consequences would result from removing the animals, namely the growth of the rat population.
A final decision is still months away. Authorities assured that any decision would be based on public comments that they are currently receiving.