Don’t deny it, everybody wants to be a cat. There’s something unquestionably comforting about seeing a curious furry face poking out from behind some bins when wandering backpack-first through a faraway land. Independent, no-f*cks-given and yes, very cute, it’s not hard for cats to take over if and when they choose. In certain spots around the world, felines have led a fishy-breath revolution. Claiming their rightful place as rulers of towns, cities and even countries, here are 6 places cats have well and truly taken over.
There are 1.5 million reasons to go to Cyprus, each one with an uncanny knack for entwining around your feet and mewing pitifully for your leftover souvlakia. Floofs of all shapes and sizes linger hopefully around harbours or laze on their neighbourhood balconies in the Mediterranean sun with a can of kindly gifted tuna at their paws. Cypriot cats actually outnumber the island’s human population, by at least 300,000 felines. They’re a historical breed. The earliest record of cat domestication was found in a 9,500-year-old burial site in Cyprus; a loyal wildcat buried alongside its prehistoric hoomans. By 400 AD, legend tells how Helen of Constantinople sent Egyptian ships full of cats to hunt an infestation of snakes on the island.
These days, local attitude varies. Some adore these pest control professionals working hard while being oh-so-soft-and-fluffy; others consider them as pests themselves. With an ever-climbing population and a lack of governmental sterilization programs, volunteers scour the streets in vans full of food while feral cats follow in Pied Piper-induced trances. While overpopulation is undoubtedly a problem, cats have, and always will be an indispensable part of Cypriot culture.
Those looking for fluff therapy in Japan might think first of the many Instagrammable cat cafes in Tokyo’s side streets. But why sip a mere matcha latte when you could venture to an island? Ainoshima is one of Japan’s self-proclaimed ‘Cat Islands’. This feline paradise off the coast of Kyushu is perhaps more humble than the Kawaii-overloaded capital. But for three decades it has been a haven for stray cats to leisurely wash their paws on concrete jetties as they watch fishing boats return with their personal supply of fresh sashimi. Cats here are well looked after by the residents, for this reason, feeding by tourists is forbidden (so hold that kibble.) I said humble, and I meant it. You won’t find neon signs and cat-shaped mochi here. Instead, stroke some kitties, hire a bicycle, and explore this tiny island firsthand before boarding the ferry back.
You don’t have to walk down too many cobbled streets in Greece before finding a stand of postcards with an endless array of curious yellow eyes staring back at you. Greece without cats is like hostels without bunkbeds: it just doesn’t work. 99.9% of travellers to Greece are struck by the site of brawny toms stretched out across the crumbling steps of an ancient Greek amphitheatre, or a gang of boisterous kittens brawling in the alleys of Athens.
While most cats you see are feral, communities knit together to ‘adopt’ their local neighbourhood residents. You’ll often see bowls of food and water left outside houses and even the odd stray lounging smugly in a makeshift bed on the terrace. Alongside this united local effort, cat shelters are a common occurrence all over the country. A necessary response to the lack of governmental control.
At first glance, you might mistake this farm to be like any other in western Siberia. But Alla Lebedeva’s property in Prigorodny sets itself apart with every fluffy resident leaving its’ pawprints on the snow-covered rooftops. It all started in 2003, when the 59-year-old farm owner and her husband Sergey got their first Siberian feline, Babushka (cue my awful Kate Bush rendition.) Her legacy begins here. Today, you can find the trademark shaggy fur and bushy tails poking out of hay bales or huddling together atop wooden fences. Domestic? Not quite. Many of the cats here are prone to month-long hunting exhibitions in the harsh Siberian wilderness. But rest assured, they almost always return to this frozen feline paradise so many of them now call home.
A leisurely stroll in the colourful markets of Balat or the maze-like streets of Karaköy reveals the four-legged attitude behind this cosmopolitan city. It’s hard to picture Istanbul without the odd paw or pair of torn ears creeping into view. And several hundred thousand cats proudly roam the streets of Istanbul with as much bushy-tailed confidence as their human counterparts. The unspoken rule here is that cats = family. These felines are as much of a part of the community as the local kebab shop owner feeding them scraps of doner meat. Citizens provide strays with basic necessities, and you’ll see evidence of this throughout the city. Public parks lay out food and water dishes for ever-peckish visitors, and makeshift shelters are built outside homes to accommodate pitstops on long nights hunting mice (or raiding dustbins.)
Houtong Cat Village, Taiwan
In Taiwanese, ‘Houtong’ = ‘Monkey Cave’. 100 years ago, this riverside town in the Ruifang Valley was famous for having a cave full of monkeys. Now, a very different mammal rules the roost. It’s quite an experience to walk off the train and onto a giant metal cat-shaped footbridge. But hey, what do you expect from a town whose feline residents outnumber its humans? The strays here are unsurprisingly well-fed, plump balls of glossy fur block your path on every hillside walkway you turn down. Wandering around, you’ll see painfully cutesy cat signs and statues (even the train ticket is adorned with printed kitties.) There are cat-themed shops; cat-themed cafes; cat-themed restaurants… If you were looking for a new cat plushie – I wouldn’t judge – here’s the place to buy one (or twenty.) These days, the town is looking decidedly rough around the edges. But despite the fading shopfronts and peeling statues, you can rest assured that the living, breathing four-legged residents remain the real stars of the show.