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Feline Paradise or Catastrophe? Japanese Island Swarming With Cats

Cats crowd the harbor on Aoshima Island in the Ehime prefecture of southern Japan on Feb. 25, 2015.

An army of feral cats rules a remote island in southern Japan, curling up in abandoned houses or strutting about in a fishing village that is overrun with felines outnumbering humans six to one.

Thomas Peter / X02624

A clowder of cats crowd the wharf on Aoshima Island.

Originally introduced to the mile-long island of Aoshima to deal with mice that plagued fishermen's boats, the cats stayed on - and multiplied.

Thomas Peter / X02624

More than 120 cats swarm the island with only a handful of humans for company, mostly pensioners who didn't join the waves of migrants seeking work in the cities after World War Two.

Thomas Peter / X02624

Cats walk along the embankment as a man fishes.

Aoshima, a 30-minute ferry ride off the coast of Ehime prefecture, had been home to 900 people in 1945. The only sign of human activity now is the boatload of day-trippers from the mainland, visiting what is locally known as Cat Island.

Thomas Peter / X02624

Cats beg for food on Aoshima Island.

With no restaurants, cars, shops or kiosks selling snacks, Aoshima is no tourist haven. But cat lovers are not complaining.

"There is a ton of cats here, then there was this sort of cat witch who came out to feed the cats which was quite fun," said 27-year-old Makiko Yamasaki. "So I'd want to come again."

Thomas Peter / X02624

A cat sits on a wall of a derelict school.

The allure of cats is not surprising in a country that gave the world Hello Kitty, a cartoon character considered the epitome of cuteness. Cat cafes have long been popular in Tokyo, catering to fans who can't keep the animals at home because of strict housing regulations that often forbid pets.

Thomas Peter / X02624

A local woman shoos away cats as she leaves her house.

The cats of Aoshima are not too picky, surviving on the rice balls, energy bars or potatoes they cadge off tourists. In the absence of natural predators, they roam the island without fear.

Thomas Peter / X02624

A cat carries a fish on Aoshima Island.

Locals are trying to keep the feline population in check - at least 10 cats have been neutered.

Thomas Peter / X02624

Cats crowd around village nurse and Ozu city official Atsuko Ogata as she carries a bag of cat food to the designated feeding place on Aoshima Island.

Thomas Peter / X02624

A cat jumps for food offered by a tourist, right, as other cats beg for food.

"If people coming to the island find the cats healing, then I think it's a good thing," said 65-year-old Hidenori Kamimoto, who ekes out a living as a fisherman.
"I just hope that it's done in a way that doesn't become a burden on the people who live here."



• Video: Cat Island

Thomas Peter / X02624