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Award-winning programme shared across campuses

How UWC's feral cats are keeping all nine lives during lockdown

12 August 2020 - 06:00 By Claire Keeton
Patrick Luvuyo Lupuzi is a dedicated full-time caretaker for Tufcat at UWC.
Patrick Luvuyo Lupuzi is a dedicated full-time caretaker for Tufcat at UWC.
Image: The UWC Feral Cat Project

Feral cats roaming the University of the Western Cape (UWC) campus have not lost any of their nine lives during lockdown, because they have been fed every day and are getting emergency vet care, UWC reported on Tuesday.

“Cats have needs, just like humans,” said the cats’ full-time caretaker Patrick Lupuzi. “They may be solitary animals in many ways, but like us they love attention and companionship. And they also need to be taken care of in terms of food, shelter, health, and so on.” 

When Covid-19 infections started surging in Cape Town, Lupuzi could not safely get to campus on public transport to look after them.

Foreign languages lecturer Sandra van Reenen, who lives near the campus, stepped into the breach by walking over to feed the cats and monitor their health. Lupuzi has since been able to go back to campus.

When The UWC Feral Cat Project (Tufcat) started more than 20 years ago, there were hundreds of starving, sick and unsterilised cats on campus.

“Since the cats were mating and hungry, they started becoming a serious nuisance and potential health risk. They were going into the UWC Nature Reserve to hunt, scratching in bins and entering residences,” said lecturer Sharyn Spicer, among the animal-loving staff on campus who founded Tufcat.

The project came the rescue by providing food, sterilisation and vet care to feral cats, as well as supporting workers and students with pet care — all funded by a weekly book sale on campus, which has been replaced by an online sale on Facebook.

The 165 or so feral cats prevent potential rodent problems on campus, said UWC. This was among the projects that won the university a “green innovation in Africa” award.

UWC experts have advised Wits, Rhodes, UKZN, CPUT and Pollsmoor Prison on how to achieve similar results. Simply removing feral cats from the campus isn’t a solution because others move into the vacuum.

Tufcat also offers benefits to dogs at its Home for Life sanctuary for old, sick and disabled cats and dogs, and those with behavioural challenges.

But cats may need to watch their backs: recent researcher shows that dogs are brainier than these furry felines, having nearly twice as many neurons in their cerebral cortex.

“These are the little grey cells” associated with thinking, planning and complex behaviour — all considered hallmarks of intelligence,” said psychology and biological sciences professor Suzana Herculano-Houzel from Vanderbilt University in the US, freely admitting she is a dog person.

Fortunately for UWC's free-roaming cats, they have enough support to survive this pandemic — and beyond.

More details can be found at the Tufcat website.