Hazards for cats in rural Mallorca

No hunting signThe official shooting season has finished on Mallorca for the time being. The silencing of the guns means our concerns for the safety of our cat clan are lessened. The seven outdoor cats that have  adopted us over the past few years spend quite a few of the daylight hours fairly close to our home – and we can often catch a glimpse of one or more of them snuggled beneath a shrub somewhere in our valley. But their natural prowling instincts kick in after dark and in the winter it is often still dark when the first gunshots are heard.

We’ve often wondered about the hunters’ ability to see what they are trying to aim at during these dark mornings and on those days when fog lingers. And these are the times we worry most about the cats. Thankfully, for the time being, the guns are now silent.

Poorly pusscats

But, of course, there are plenty of other hazards for cats in the countryside – both domestic and feral. One of these is the risk of parasites. The damned things are everywhere and, for this reason, the responsible thing for cat owners to do is take protective measures, which can be in the form of tablets or pipettes. According to our vet, the risk of becoming infested is increased where more than five cats live in close commune.

Now we don’t ‘own’ seven of our cats, but we have taken responsibility for their welfare – since they have made our land their home. We went down the pipette option, as anyone who has ever tried to give even a friendly domestic moggy will understand how difficult it would be to pop a pill down the throat of a semi-feral feline. We do, after all, have plenty of use for our fingers . . .

Precautions may not always work

But even pipettes may not offer 100% protection. Last week two of our cats, little Pip and shy Chico, both fell ill. Chico hadn’t been for food for four days but we had spotted him sitting at the end of the field. We’d taken food down to tempt him but he wouldn’t come near us, disappearing over the stone wall into the next field as we approached.

Chico - back to health and enjoying his family again. He's the one facing the camera.

Chico – back to health and enjoying his family again. He’s the one facing the camera.

Meanwhile Pip also went off her food. Hey, you may say, cats do that from time to time. But not Pip. She’s the first at the door waiting for us to bring out the cat bowls with their food and the one that likes to ‘tidy away’ any food left by the others. She was also rather subdued – another unusual sign – so we took her to the vet’s on Monday; it was the first of a few visits for her last week.

On Friday morning we found Chico sitting in our dining window recess. He seemed so listless that we immediately took him to the vet’s, where he was found to have a low temperature – a dangerous thing for a cat.

"No, I don't take pills, thank you!" But Pip is back in fine form.

“No, I don’t take pills, thank you!” But Pip is back in fine form.

Long story short, after some seven visits in four days to our local vet’s last week, various tests and treatments, and saying adios to several hundred euros, Pip and Chico are now back to good health and eating well again. The cause of all the problems was a type of parasite. So you can never be too sure . . .

Coincidentally, a Katzenworld blog post on the subject of parasites popped into my mailbox last week and as it could be of interest to cat owners anywhere, I’m sharing the link with you here:

http://katzenworld.co.uk/2016/02/06/tips-advice-parasites-your-cat-is-susceptible-to/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guns fall silent

No hunting sign

Apart from the almond blossom, one of the best things about February on Mallorca is that the hunting season has finished. For a few months now we have a reprieve from the shots that have been our early morning alarm call for a few months. The rabbit and thrush population quite like it too . . .

Here’s lead in your Lycra

There’s a large old finca not far from us that was once dubbed ‘the shooting lodge’. Its owners used to allow hunters to shoot on their land; taxis full of macho gun-toting chaps from Palma would arrive at weekends. Their shots would echo around the valley and sometimes it felt like living in the Wild West. Let loose in the countryside, these urban hunters were seemingly unaware of the restrictions regarding shooting close to other properties and highways. On occasions, we even heard lead shot peppering the roof of our little house; once, a passing cyclist got a little lead in his Lycra . . .

Now that ‘the shooting lodge’ has been refurbished and is used as a weekend home, the Palma hunters no longer visit. The shooting we hear is largely that of our Mallorcan farming neighbours, who continue the tradition of hunting for the cooking pot.

But some of the outsiders who still come are not as careful about their targets. There have been cats shot in our valley – whether intentionally or because these men (I’ve not seen a single woman hunting around here) shoot as soon as they see something moving, I don’t know. When I hear the first shots on one of the days when hunting is allowed, I pray that all our outdoor cats will be safe.

The return of Nibbles

Around seven weeks ago one of our cats disappeared. Nibbles has always been an affectionate cat but also inclined to go off for a day or two. We thought he’d return as usual – with an enormous appetite for food and a cuddle. But the days rolled by, and turned into weeks. The Boss and I told ourselves that he had simply decided to move on; we couldn’t bear to consider that anything bad might have befallen him.

On Saturday evening we had a jaw-dropping surprise: Nibbles was waiting outside the door for dinner, along with his siblings. He was welcomed back by the other cats like the prodigal son returning with a Euromillions lottery win. They weren’t the only ones pleased to have him home.

Home sweet home for Nibbles - reclining on our old stone oven outdoors

Home sweet home for Nibbles – reclining on our old stone oven outdoors

With the hunting season over, outdoor cats are now safe from this particular hazard. Just the others to worry about now . . .

A rude awakening

Who said I can’t hunt here? Photo by Jan Edwards

Yesterday, the sound of two early morning gunshots woke me; I turned over and went back to sleep, wondering how the hunters can possibly see anything when it’s barely light. I’m used to the sound of guns going off these days but, when we first moved here, it was like living in the Wild West. At the first shot, I’d leap out of bed and crawl underneath it until the final shot had been fired. OK, that last bit’s an exaggeration but, when you’re not used to it, the sound of guns firing all around you – and the occasional peppering of lead shot on the roof of your home – can be a tad unnerving. And, in the various hunting seasons, shooting is permitted on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and public holidays.

Run, rabbit, run

Some research I did, a few years ago for a newspaper article I was writing, revealed that there were then around 22,000 people in the Balearics with a gun licence. Not surprising really, as so much of the island is rural. Hunting and foraging are part of rural living for many and, although I don’t personally like hunting, I’m out there with the rest of ’em when it comes to foraging for blackberries or wild asparagus!

Back in our early time here, our valley – with its vast rabbit population – was a magnet for gun-toting Mallorcans: some even came by taxi from the Palma area to give their guns an outing. Most of these congregated at a nearby derelict property, which became known locally as ‘the hunting lodge’. Not all of them seemed to understand the regulations about not shooting close to properties or roads.

Of leadshot and Lycra 

Things have changed in our valley over the past few years: today, there are fewer rabbits around here to shoot (myxomatosis has taken its toll) and ‘the hunting lodge’ has been restored and turned into the country home of a Manacor family – who don’t hunt. The hunters are now more likely to be folks who live in the valley, shooting for the kitchen pot rather than for pleasure.

Whether it’s the reduced chance of bagging a bunny, or the higher cost of fuel to get here, there is definitely less shooting here now. Of course, it could be due to the increased interest in our valley shown by Seprona (the Nature Protection Service of the Guardia Civil, which polices rural matters, including hunting), after – so the story goes – a German cyclist reported a ‘leadshot meets Lycra’ experience while on a bike ride through the valley . . .