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Due to the harm domestic cats inflict to birds and other wildlife, a reputable Polish scientific institute has labelled them as "invasive alien species". This month's decision has elicited strong emotional responses from some cat lovers, who have put the lead scientist behind it on the defence.

Wojciech Solarz, a biologist with the state-run Polish Academy of Sciences, said that the database already had 1,786 additional species registered with no concerns. He claimed that some media stories that gave the mistaken impression that his institute was advocating the killing of feral and other cats may have contributed to the outcry over invasive alien species No. 1,787.

When Solarz submitted "Felis catus," the scientific name for the common house cat, into a national database administered by the academy's Institute of Nature Conservation, he was unprepared for the negative public reaction. Given the quantity of birds and mammals that domestic cats pursue and kill, there is a growing body of scientific evidence, according to Solarz, indicating they have a negative effect on biodiversity.

The cat "completely meets" the requirements for inclusion as an alien invasive species, he claimed. The scientist and a veterinarian debated Solarz's assessment of the risks cats cause to animals last week in a televised segment carried by independent channel TVN.

The declining biodiversity has other factors, such as a polluted environment and urban building facades that can kill birds in flight, according to Dorota Suminska, the author of the book "The Happy Cat."

“Ask if man is on the list of non-invasive alien species," Suminska said, arguing that cats were unfairly assigned too much blame.

Solarz pushed back, arguing that cats kill about 140 million birds in Poland each year.

Earlier this month, the Polish Academy institute published a post on its website citing the "controversy" and seeking to clarify its position.

The institute stressed that it was “opposed to any cruelty towards animals". It also argued that its classification was in line with European Union guidelines.

As far as categorising cats as “alien", the institute noted that “Felis catus" was domesticated probably around 10,000 years ago in the cradle of the great civilisations of the ancient Middle East, making the species alien to Europe from a strictly scientific point of view.

The institute also stressed that all it was recommending was for cat owners to limit the time their pets spend outdoors during bird breeding season.

“I have a dog, but I don't have anything against cats," Solarz said.

(With AP inputs)

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