Bwog recently found out about an under-utilized cat resource in the neighborhood: the feral cats of Morningside Park. We sat down with self-proclaimed Emissary of the Cats, Christian Zhang, CC ’16, to get some information and tips on how to find these cats ourselves.
Bwog: So, how did you find out about these feral cats in Morningside Park?
Christian: I visited the park shortly after Sandy, because I had heard that there were feral cats living in Morningside Park and I was wondering how they had fared. I stood in the park and kept an eye out for anything that moved, which mostly turned out to be squirrels. Then a brown tabby crossed my path! It was so cute! I followed it and found a white cat living with it at the bottom of a rock on the Manhattan Ave side. There were a few empty tuna cans around, so I knew people were feeding them.
B: Do the cats seem healthy and happy?
C: They look pretty healthy. They’re timid, but extremely adorable. They’re probably a little cold right now, though. I went last weekend and didn’t see them. They’re probably huddling under their rock.
B: So are these cat house pets that ran away?
C: I think that they were probably born there. New York has a massive feral cat population. There’s actually another family in Riverside Park which I haven’t visited yet. At nycferalcat.org, you can find information about how to take care of your neighbourhood feral cats, what to feed them, what not to feed them. NYC Parks Department also has a trap, neuter and release program for these cats.
B: Can you give us some tips for cat-hunting?
C: I recommend going in the afternoon, because they like to sit in the sun. They’re shy, but they’re out during the day. They’ve lived in the park their whole lives, they’re not afraid. You should be prepared to bushwhack a little. They live in the park, not on the path, so wear good shoes. Also, keep your distance. The cats will see you from far away but won’t run unless they think you’re a threat. So approach slowly and make cute diminutive noises, and stop when you think they’re getting scared.
B: So just wander in the park and keep your eyes open?
C: The area above the waterfall is good, there’s a bigger cat that roams around up there. Also, they’re more likely to be on the lower side of Morningside Park, on Morningside Avenue. There’s a nice wooded area down there where they can hide and it’s quieter.
B: Are you ever afraid of getting attacked?
C: Well, not really. In my first encounter with them, we had an awkward staring contest that I won (I wasn’t going to give up; I had just found these cats!). When the kitty got bored, it ran off and started climbing up this rock cliff. From the top, it started watching me and I got a little worried that it might pounce on me. It’s the size of a small bowl, and really cute, but these guys are wild cats, after all.
B: Would bringing them a treat help?
C: People bring them tuna, but the parks workers I’ve talked to say don’t feed them. They live in the wild; they know how to hunt rats and squirrels. If you feed them, it encourages more cats to come, which increases the population.
B: Anything else?
C: Morningside Park is nice and Columbia students shouldn’t be afraid to go there. They’ve done a lot of work over the past 10 years to make the park safer, replanting trees and removing places people can hide. The only surprises you’re going to get are a few cute cats.
Formidable felines via Shutterstock