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A Haven For New York City's Homeless Cats

Life in a feral cat colony in Morningside Park, on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

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As of spring 2013, there are anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million feral cats living on the streets of New York City.

According to the nonprofit Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals.

A small percentage of that population, no more than a few dozen cats, make their home in Morningside Park, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Columbia University.

Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

The magnificent Cathedral of Saint John the Divine overlooks the southwest corner of the park.

Walking the grounds of the park, if you look carefully, you'll see cats everywhere. Though they tend to cluster in two large colonies: one near the pond, the other near a school at the northern tip of the park.

Others have been known to seek refuge in small caves along the rugged cliffs that stretch across Morningside Park's west side.

As with any group of ferals, populations vary widely. One site estimates there may be more than 70 cats living in Morningside Park.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

Via Bloomberg, "They are adept at hiding and they are adept at reproducing ... TWO CATS can produce 62 CATS in just two years."

Trap-Neuter-Return programs help keep feral cat populations in check — though it's unknown how many of the cats in Morningside Park have been dealt with.

© Harry Shuldman Photography / Via Flickr: hshuldman

The one-eyed feral cat pictured above has its right ear tipped, to help identify it as having been spayed or neutered and vaccinated as part of a Trap-Neuter-Return program.

The vast majority of cats in the park were likely born there, descendants of stray cats — domesticated felines that at one point or another were either lost or abandoned.

Cats aren't the only descendants of abandoned pets in the park. There's a thriving population of abandoned pet turtles in Morningside Park pond.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

Almost all of these are red-eared sliders, a species native to the South. They're either descendants of abandoned pets or first-generation orphans — and many of them may have been living in the park quite a while. Red-eared sliders have a lifespan between 50–100 years.

Feral cats are ruthless hunters of small birds and rodents in the park...

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

I was taking pictures of these two cats when a bird flew overhead and they both looked up at the exact same time.

Feeding feral cats in New York City is perfectly legal.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

It is illegal to feed feral cats in some towns and cities throughout the U.S. — though as groups like the Humane Society point out, feeding bans don't really do much to curb feral populations anway.

If you see these cats in the park, try to respect their privacy. They are adorable, but timid. Regular visitors rarely get closer than 10–15 feet from them.

There are feral cats in alleyways, construction sites, abandoned buildings, warehouses, parking lots, etc. all over New York City. In some ways, the ferals in Morningside Park are the lucky ones.

A small but devoted (and mostly anonymous) cadre of caring neighbors stop by regularly to feed them, check on their living conditions, even bring them medicine.

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