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Cats are getting a curfew in some Icelandic towns


"It's 10 P.M. Do You Know Where Your Cat Is?" That was the headline of an article that recently appeared in Hakai Magazine about the fairly recent phenomenon in some Icelandic towns of banning or limiting cats being outside. Those for it say that outdoor cats are a public nuisance or threaten birds and ecosystems. Some cat supporters, meanwhile, have opposed it.

Joining us now from Reykjavik, Iceland, to tell us more is journalist Egill Bjarnason, who wrote the piece. Welcome.

EGILL BJARNASON: Hi. Great to be here.

RASCOE: So can you set the stage for this debate by talking about, like, how popular cats are in Iceland? Iceland is a place that's really with a lot of cat people, right?

BJARNASON: Yeah. Reykjavik is sometimes called the city of cats, and it has a reason going back to the 20th century ban on dogs. The city banned dogs until 1984, considering them farm animals. So a lot of people grew up with cats instead.

RASCOE: So there's, like, a cat curfew. What does that actually look like in practice, and why would cats need a curfew?

BJARNASON: A couple of years ago, there was a really novel or radical idea to propose that cats should be solely indoors. But in the past year or two, it's become kind of a strong movement. And the reasons are cats are just seen as a nuisance animal and people don't want them in their backyard. And the second is that, again and again, reports showing that most seabird species are struggling. You may have seen in the media these sort of farewell articles to the puffin, and that is just one example of a bird that has been struggling in the past couple of years. And cats are not to blame for it, but they are adding to the problem by attacking chicks and nests. And the main reason is changes in the oceans for food system, which may be linked to climate change. But that is kind of a stronger ecological reasoning for the cat curfew.

RASCOE: So in one city that initially voted to ban outdoor cats entirely, that measure faced some real serious opposition, and then they softened it to a nighttime curfew that will go into effect next year. Do you know how widespread these curfews and bans are and, like, what type of opposition do they face?

BJARNASON: So, so far, we have two towns and two smaller islands that have a curfew on cats. But Akureyri, which you referred to, has become sort of battleground for this idea. You know, the city council voted to place this total cat curfew, but they faced opposition from cat supporters all over the country who, you know, threatened to boycott the famous dairy products from the town and made all kinds of noise. And just some weeks before, the city council decided to reverse the ban or soften it into a nighttime curfew.

RASCOE: Based on your reporting, like, have you found that bans and curfews are actually effective at protecting birds and wildlife? Like, are there other things that people can do?

BJARNASON: Ecologists, they don't agree whether if we would ban cats entirely throughout the country where we would see a dramatic increase in bird population. We don't really know. But what would happen is that there would be more backyard birds. And I have a cat myself, and I have a lot of birds in my yard. And I see it happen. You know, even if I do my best to prevent the cat from being able to catch birds, they would still be able to catch chicks and attack nests. So I've sort of stopped tolerating that.

RASCOE: Egill Bjarnason, journalist and cat owner, thank you so much for joining us.

BJARNASON: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.