San Juan Puerto Rico’s Iconic Stray Felines to Be Evicted

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson

One-year deadline imposed by the US National Park Service to shift almost 200 cats from 16th-century El Morro fortress.

Photo Credit: photravel_ru /

If you’ve ever seen the highly acclaimed 2016 documentary “Kedi” about the stray cats of Istanbul, you probably have a good sense of how a plentiful feline population can contribute to the charm and feel of an otherwise sterile urban center. Similarly, if you’ve ever stayed at any of the Caribbean resorts where free-ranging felines in search of a snack or a head scratch not only keep the rodent population in check but also provide a welcome dose of entertainment for hotel guests.

So why, one wonders, was a decision made to remove these furry, four-legged ambassadors from Puerto Rico’s historic seaside area?

It seems the US National Park Service has health-related concerns about the impact 200 cats roaming around the 16th-century El Morro fortress can have on visitors to the site. From the smell of feces and urine to potential bites, the organization has decided that these felines will have to be removed within the coming year as they are no longer consistent with the cultural landscape.

Of course, a community meeting was held with two options presented which included removing the cats or keeping the status quo. The overwhelming response was to keep the cats in place…  however somewhere along the line, that request was overruled. Per one participant “These cats are one of the wonders of Old San Juan. And they even have a statue of them in the historic area where they roam.”

Now, what seems lost to this determined organization is the fact that some of these cats may well be descendants of the original colonial-era felines that inhabited the site centuries ago.  And many more were specifically introduced in the mid-20th century to knock back the rat population. Mission accomplished! Fast forward and after decades of happily co-existing with visiting tourists, the two hundred or so felines left, are now being summarily evicted. And in what seems like a bit of a rush.

No Catch-Neuter-Release (CNR) for these folk. They’ve decided to immediately remove all cat feeding stations and prohibit unauthorized feeding – which they claim will attract rats. Hello? You have cats that deal with that!

As cats are trapped, they will then be adopted out, placed in a foster home, held in a shelter or they’ll face “other” options. Hmm... this is starting to sound like more of a cull.

The volunteer group, Save a Gato has been feeding, spaying, neutering and adopting out many of these roaming felines for years now. According to the secretary of the board of directors, Ana Maria Salicrup, the six-month timeline is unrealistic. While they hope to be chosen as the organization that will ultimately implement the unpopular plan, she feels the idea that so many felines can be trapped and removed in such a short period of time is a set-up for failure.

For me, the expression that comes to mind when attempting the impossible is “like herding cats”. How appropriate.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

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