Cats outnumber residents six to one on Aoshima Island, also known as Cat Island, Japan. That's not actually saying much, given the fact that there are only fifteen residents on the island, reports Reuters. But still, that's impressive.
The 100-plus cats that live on the island seem to be everywhere — gathering for regular feedings by townsfolk, finding shelter in the interiors of long-deserted buildings, and greeting cat-crazy tourists at the pier each day in a meowing mass. If you visit, keep in mind this is just a day trip. There aren't any hotels, restaurants, or even vending machines on Aoshima.
The cats were first introduced to the mile-long island to control the mouse population. But, it turned out there was no natural predator on the island to control the number of cats. So, the cats have steadily multiplied, then multiplied some more. Annoyed locals have begun trying to tackle the problem by fixing the cats, but at last count, only ten of the cats have been spayed or neutered.
While the most famous, Aoshima is not the only Japanese "cat island." In fact, there are eleven so-called "cat islands" in Japan where herds of feral cats roam, All About Japan says.
What to Do About Feral Cat Colonies
It doesn't take long for a feral cat population to greatly increase in numbers. A pair of breeding cats can have two or more litters per year. If they produced five kittens a year — about average — they and their offspring could produce as many as 420,000 kittens over a seven-year period, according to statistics compiled by the Solano Feral Cat Trap Neuter Release Task Force.
Many of those kittens don't survive. In fact, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a study of Florida feral cats that found that as many as seventy-five percent of kittens died within the first six months of life.
But that still leaves a large number of cats to roam freely.
Most animal protection groups — like the Solano Task Force — advocate trap-neuter-release programs, which are known in the field as TNR. TNR advocates, which include the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Humane Association, say TNR reduces shelter intakes and euthanasia through natural attrition over time.
TNR success stories include the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society, which started with a colony of 300 feral cats in 1992 and reduced the number to zero by 2009.
However, not all animal advocacy groups believe TNR works, works quickly enough, or is the best solution for native species, which can be decimated by feral cat populations. The American Bird Conservancy and the Wildlife Society are two groups that oppose TNR.
"Once feral cats are spayed or neutered, they are then abandoned back into the environment to continue a feral existence. Not only is this systematic abandonment inhumane to the cats, it perpetuates numerous problems such as wildlife predation, transmission of disease, and property destruction," American Bird Conservancy officials wrote.
Cat Island, Japan, Where 'The Only Thing We Have to Offer Is Cats'
While feral cat colonies in the United States cause controversy, the Cat Island, Japan is a celebration of these cats that attracts a steady stream of tourists every year. The cats have learned to swarm the pier when the ferry approaches because they know it brings visitors with food. The same tourists also travel with cameras.
The ferry operator who runs two round-trips a day from Aoshima has seen a steady increase in the number of people coming and going from the island since visitors started posting pictures on the internet of the cats on the island.
"I seldom carried tourists before, but now I carry tourists every week, even though the only thing we have to offer is cats," he told the Japan Daily Press. So, if you're looking to spend a weekend surrounded by cats and find yourself in the area, you should definitely check out Aoshima Island — Cat Island, Japan!
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.