(Published - 7 August 2020)
For twenty years, The UWC Feral Cat Project (TUFCAT) has been taking care of the University of the Western Cape’s campus cats, and providing the campus community with entertaining reads through its weekly fundraising book sales. And they weren’t about to let a little thing like a COVID-19 pandemic slow them down.
“Cats have needs, just like humans,” said 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.”
TUFCAT was initiated by animal-loving UWC staff who could not ignore the plight of hundreds of sick, unsterilised and starving cats on campus. Lecturer Sharyn Spicer (Department of Anthropology & Sociology) and the late Andre Oppelt (former Operations Manager) initiated a TNR (trap-neuter-release) and feeding programme in 1996.
“Soon after starting work at UWC, I found that there were literally hundreds of cats all over campus and the off-campus residences,” said Spicer. “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, entering residences, and causing a nuisance.”
Since 2000, the initiative has ensured that the cats have food every day as well as helping workers at UWC and students with sterilising and providing emergency veterinary assistance for their pets.
Lupuzi runs much of TUFCAT’s on-campus operations, from the TNR programme to the feeding to the campus book sales that help keep the project going.
“I was working at UWC doing carpet cleaning, of all things,” he recalled, laughing. “That’s when I met Sharyn, and she asked me to help here and there. It all grew from there - and it’s been an interesting experience.”
And the cats give back to the campus as well: the (sterilised) core cat colonies on campus prevent potential rodent problems from emerging. They’re so good at it that they represent one of the “green innovations” that’s earned UWC the title of Africa’s Greenest Campus (thrice).
TUFCAT’s success has inspired others to try to achieve similar results, and the Project has also advised CPUT, Wits, Rhodes and UKZN about their own feral cat issues and programmes - and even done the same at Pollsmoor Prison.
COVID: Disrupting Cat Operations
Since COVID-19 hit South African shores, TUFCAT has faced some challenges - including accessing campus to feed and care for the cats.
“Patrick was using public transport to come to campus, which could be risky,” Spicer explained. “Fortunately, Sandra van Reenen, UWC lecturer in Foreign Languages, lives close to campus and could come in daily to feed the cats and check for problems.”
Lupuzi returned to campus as lockdown regulations eased.
“The campus may be closed, but we still make it our priority to make sure the cats have their needs met,” he said. “It’s a little more challenging, and some of the wilder cats have enjoyed running around unchallenged. But others are glad to have some human contact again.”
A bigger challenge has been funding. While donors have continued supporting the project, campus book sales have, naturally, come to a halt. TUFCAT has started to sell their books online via their Facebook page - as students have been requesting.
So how can you help?
“Consider becoming a donor or cat sponsor,” said Spicer. “Or buy books from us on our online bookshop, and we will deliver orders for collection and distribution. And if you don’t have extra cash, why not donate your secondhand books and goods for us to sell?”
TTUFCAT is now a PBO (Public Benefit Organisation), and can issue 18A tax certificates to donors. But there are other benefits as well.
The benefits can be great - and not just for the cats.
“Helping feral cats is time-consuming and can be frustrating and emotionally draining,” Patrick noted. “But it can also be extremely rewarding, with each situation and each cat presenting a new learning experience.”
Want to know more about the TUFCAT initiative? Thinking of buying or donating books, lending a hand, or something like that? Why not check out 5 Things You Should Know about TUFCats? Or just visit http://www.tufcat.co.za/, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to keep up to date with the latest cat-based developments on campus.