In a city holy to three religions, with strong political and geographical divisions tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, another issue is driving a wedge between residents: what to do about Butter, and the hundreds of thousands of street cats like her. The discussion intensified recently after the city's new mayor, Moshe Lion, announced in late January that the municipality would spend 100,000 shekels ($27,692) a year to buy food for street cats and set up designated feeding stations. The project comes as dumpsters have been replaced in some areas by underground trash containers, effectively reducing a key source of food for street cats.What, you ask, has this to do with antiquity? Read on:
"Because there are so many cats, it's become so emotional in both ways," says Idit Gunther, a veterinarian and lecturer in veterinary medicine at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "You have people who spend their whole salary on feeding them, then you have people who think of the cats and the feeders in a bad way. And whether you are a cat lover or a cat hater you can see that something needs to be done."
Many tour guides and Jerusalem residents blame the British, who ruled the city between 1917 and 1948, for bringing cats to the city via their ships. But the felines have lived in Jerusalem for thousands of years, Gunther says. In fact, the genetic makeup of most of Israel's street cats shows they are directly descended from the original African cat domesticated by the ancient Egyptians, and do not include genes of any wild European cat species, she says.For more on recent studies of ancient cat DNA, plus other fun facts about ancient cats, see here.
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