Where Did All the Cats Go? Searching for Felines on Cat Island


Cat Island is located in the Bahamas and is part of the District of Cat Island. It lies about 150 miles southeast of Nassau and is one of the larger islands in the Bahamas at around 48 miles long and 6 miles wide. The island was given its name due to the large population of feral cats that once inhabited it. There are various theories as to how the cats first arrived on the island, with some believing they were brought over by European settlers and others speculating they swam over from nearby islands or mainland. Over time, the cats multiplied and became well established across Cat Island. The island provided the perfect isolated habitat for them to thrive.

The island has a diverse geography, with lush wetlands, mangrove swamps, salt ponds, tidal creeks, inland blue holes, and 30 miles of white sand beaches along the eastern coastline. The highest point on Cat Island is Mount Alvernia at 206 feet above sea level. The island was historically important as a center for cotton plantations during the era of slavery in the Bahamas. Today, it relies more on fishing and tourism for its economy.


Contours of Inequality


History as a Home for Cats

Cat Island, also known as Tashirojima, has a long history as a home for cats. According to Wikipedia, early settlers brought cats to the island in order to help control the rodent population. As merchants and fisherman settled on the island, the cats helped keep the rat population under control and protect the food supplies. Over time, the cat population grew quite large, as the cats were fed and cared for by the island residents. The fishermen came to regard the cats as good luck charms, believing they brought prosperity and wealth. This led to a cat shrine being built on the island, further solidifying the cultural significance of the cats.

Decline of the Cat Population

Development and human activity began to disrupt the island ecosystem in the 1980s. Many cats died or left the island as human interventions changed the natural balance. By the early 2000s, the cat population had declined significantly from its peak.

Exact population numbers are unknown, but reports indicate the number of cats had dropped to around 100 by the 2010s. In 2018, Ehime Shimbun reported that the population had decreased to 13 with an average age of “over 75”. In 2019, Asahi Shimbun Globe reported just 5 cats remained.

Cat Island Today

Once home to thousands of feral cats, Cat Island is now a popular tourist destination in the Bahamas that draws visitors who come to enjoy the white sand beaches, fishing, and diving. However, the feral cat population has dwindled over the years. Whereas the island was once overrun by cats, there are now only around 200 left (Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge).

The remaining cats on Cat Island can be found in and around the main village areas, as well as in the tropical forests and near the beaches. Visitors may spot a cat prowling along the beach or napping under a palm tree. While the cats are no longer as numerous as they once were, their presence is still felt across the island.

In an effort to protect the remaining feral cat population on Cat Island, a local animal rescue organization called Friends of the Cat Island Cats has been working to spay, neuter, and provide medical care for the cats. They also coordinate adoptions for kittens and socialized cats. This helps keep the cats healthy and prevent overpopulation, while conserving the unique island cats that have become part of the heritage of Cat Island (Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge).

The Future of the Cats

The future of the cats on Cat Island remains uncertain. The challenges for the remaining cat population include lack of veterinary care, food scarcity, limited caretakers, vulnerability to weather and predators, and general decline of their habitat and ecosystem.

There are some conservation efforts underway to try to support and revive the cat population. Local residents and some visitors have provided food, water, and medical aid when possible. There has been discussion of more organized TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs to stabilize the population. But funding and resources remain limited.

What the future holds for the cats is unclear. Without significant intervention, the population may continue to decline over time as cats face ongoing threats and challenges. But with increased conservation action and community support, it’s possible the cats could regain a stable footing on the island they have inhabited for decades. The fate of the cats depends largely on the commitment of humans to their preservation as an iconic and beloved part of Cat Island’s history and ecosystem.

Cultural Significance of the Cats

The cats of Cat Island hold deep cultural significance and are an iconic part of the island’s identity and folklore. According to folk tales, a ship carrying Irish cats sank off the coast of Cat Island in the 1840s, and the cats swam ashore and propagated across the island. The cats became revered by locals as bringers of good luck [1].

Images of the cats feature heavily in local art, souvenirs, and commercial branding. Cat-themed paintings, wood carvings, and merchandise are sold in shops across the island. The island’s association with cats has been embraced by tourism promoters, who frequently use cat imagery and themes in their marketing campaigns [2]. Scenes of cats lounging on the beach or strolling through town regularly appear on postcards and travel brochures.

Annual festivals on Cat Island, such as the Homecoming Festival, incorporate the island’s feline mascots into celebrations through costumes, pageantry, and decorations. The cats have become ingrained in the cultural identity of Cat Island, representing good fortune, resilience, and pride for locals.

Impact on Ecosystem

Cat Island was once home to a large population of feral cats, numbering in the thousands. These cats had a significant impact on the island’s ecosystem and other wildlife populations. According to a global review, invasive cats can have major detrimental effects on native species, especially endemic mammals and birds. Cats are skilled predators and can prey on a wide variety of species. On islands with high cat populations and no natural predators, the cats were able to exert substantial pressure on local wildlife.

Research shows that cats contributed to the extinction of at least 33 species around the world. Their predatory behavior likely caused declines in seabird, reptile, and small mammal populations on Cat Island over the years. In addition, cats competed for resources with native species and spread diseases. The large cat population disrupted the island’s natural ecosystem balance.

However, after the decline of the feral cat population on Cat Island in recent decades, researchers have observed some recovery of native species. With fewer cats preying on birds and other wildlife, seabird colonies in particular have rebounded. The island’s ecosystem has begun shifting back towards its natural state now that invasive predator pressure has been reduced.

Efforts to Support Remaining Cats

There are various non-profit organizations that aim to help care for the remaining cats on Cat Island and preserve the island’s ecosystem. Some key groups involved include:

Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge works to restore and conserve habitat on the island while ensuring the cats are managed humanely.

Lanai Cat Sanctuary rescues and cares for cats from Cat Island and other Hawaiian islands, providing medical care and a permanent home.

Local volunteers make regular trips to the island to feed and provide basic veterinary care to the cats. Donations and fundraising help these groups spay/neuter cats and provide food, medicine and other resources the cats require.

Those interested in getting involved can volunteer, donate or help raise awareness for the cats of Cat Island and efforts to balance cat care with environmental conservation.

Visiting Cat Island

Cat Island is still home to dozens of cats who freely roam the island. Travelers wishing to see these famous felines can responsibly visit and make the most of their trip while being respectful of the local environment.[1]

Visitors can find the largest concentration of cats along the stone pier in the town of New Bight. Cats are often seen lounging or playing in this area. It’s also recommended to explore the area and speak with locals to discover cat hot spots. However, be mindful not to chase or crowd the cats. Give them space, keep your noise levels down, and avoid flash photography so as not to disturb them.[2]

When visiting the beach, do not attempt to feed or interact with local wildlife. Be responsible and dispose of trash properly. When boating, adhere to local guidelines to avoid harming marine life. Most importantly, be respectful of the local community and preserve the tranquility of the island.

With some care and common sense, it’s possible to catch a glimpse of Cat Island’s famous felines while keeping their best interests in mind. Visiting Cat Island provides a special opportunity to see why this unique place earned its name.


The future of the cats on Cat Island remains uncertain. While cats were once abundant on the island, their population has drastically declined over the past few decades. Today, only a small number of cats remain. This is likely due to a combination of factors, including a lack of fresh water and food sources as more and more tourists visit the island. Some conservation efforts have been made to protect the remaining cats by providing food, water, and shelter stations across the island.

It is unclear if these remaining cats will be able to maintain a stable population in the long run. The island’s ecosystem has already shifted with the declining cat numbers, and some experts argue that the cats are no longer essential to maintain ecological balance. However, many Cat Island locals and cat lovers around the world hope that the iconic island cats can bounce back. More substantial conservation efforts may be needed to preserve these unique felines into the future.

The story of the cats on Cat Island illustrates the complex interactions between humans, animals, and the environment. While we marvel at destinations defined by their wildlife, our presence inevitably impacts native ecosystems and species. The plight of the Cat Island cats reinforces the need to tread lightly, limiting our footprint and disturbance. With care and respect for all inhabitants, perhaps humans can responsibly enjoy natural places like Cat Island while also helping preserve their magic.

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