The Purrfect Paradise. Inside Japan’s Cat Island

Introduction to Cat Island

Cat Island, known as Aoshima in Japanese, is a small island located in the Ehime prefecture off the southern coast of Japan ( Surrounded by the serene waters of the Seto Inland Sea, Cat Island covers an area of only 15 acres.

The island has a rich history and was once a thriving fishing village. During the late Edo period in the 19th century, fishermen started bringing cats to the island in order to help control the rodent population on their boats ( Over time, as the human population dwindled, the cat population grew and flourished on the island.

Today, Cat Island is known for its stunning coastal scenery and hundreds of free-roaming cats that stroll along its beaches and walkways. The cats on the island are well-cared for and many tourists visit Cat Island to see and interact with the famous felines.

Origins of the Cat Population

The origins of the cat population on Tashirojima island can be traced back to the Edo period in the 1700s. According to Wikipedia, cats were brought to the island by fishermen and silk traders to help control the rat population which threatened the silkworms. Over time, as the human population on the island declined, the number of cats increased. The cats became accustomed to living outdoors and surviving on their own through hunting and scavenging.

By the 1950s, the human population on Tashirojima had dwindled to under 100 as residents moved to the mainland for work. However, the cat population continued to grow as the stray cats bred freely. Today, the cat population on the small 3.15 km2 island is estimated to be larger than the human population of under 20 permanent residents.

Estimating the Cat Population

It is quite challenging to get an accurate count of the cat population on Cat Island. Unlike the human inhabitants, the cats are not confined to homes and freely roam the island. Previous estimates have put the cat population at anywhere between 100 to 600 cats, significantly outnumbering the human population of the island.

Census takers have tried various methods to tally the cat population. Going house to house provides only a partial count, as the feral cats avoid human contact. Likewise, centralizing food or other attractants gives a biased sample, as only some cats may be drawn to it. The most reliable technique has been patient observation from key vantage points around the island over an extended period. However, observing the entirety of the island is logistically challenging.

The fluctuating nature of the cat population also complicates estimates. Litters of kittens are frequently born, increasing the numbers. Meanwhile, older cats pass away, bringing the population back down. Transient cats swim to and from the island as well. This ebb and flow means the population is not static. The best annual estimates likely fall between 200-400 cats, significantly more felines than humans on Cat Island.

Daily Life for the Cats

The cats on Cat Island live a mostly feral lifestyle, but benefit from limited human interaction. Their main food sources are fish supplied by local fishermen and tourists, as well as rodents and birds they hunt themselves. While the cats are not dependent on humans for survival, some enjoy being fed and pet by visiting tourists.

In general, the cats appear healthy and taken care of. There are no major outbreaks of disease, thanks to periodic health checks and vaccines provided by veterinary volunteers. Any injured or ill cats are captured and treated before being returned to the island.

The cats have adapted well to island living and coexist peacefully for the most part. They can be seen lounging in the sun, grooming each other, and playing together. While they are not pets, their lives are enriched by human presence and care.

Impact on the Island Ecosystem

The large population of feral cats on Cat Island has had a significant impact on the island’s ecosystem, especially in their interactions with birds, rodents, and plants. Cats are natural predators that hunt small animals like birds and rodents for food. Studies show that cats have contributed to population declines in ground-nesting bird species and small mammals on Cat Island (Cat Island Chain, Green Bay). The cats prey on eggs and chicks of species like terns and plovers, disrupting breeding cycles. They also compete with native predators like foxes and hawks for small rodents, altering natural checks and balances. In addition, cats trample vegetation and spread invasive seeds, changing plant community structure.

Researchers estimate cats could be killing over 100,000 birds per year on Cat Island, causing significant drops in ground-nesting bird populations (Cat Island Chain Restoration). Conservation groups are concerned about the impacts on threatened bird species that use the island chain for breeding and migratory stopovers. The hyperpredation by cats is considered unsustainable for supporting viable bird populations and the overall island ecosystem.

Human Interactions with the Cats

The cats on Cat Island have frequent interactions with humans, especially tourists. The island receives thousands of visitors each year who come specifically to see and interact with the cats. Many tourists bring cat food and treats to feed the cats during their visit. The cats are accustomed to this and will swarm visitors looking for handouts. While most cats appear comfortable around people, experts advise tourists not exercise caution and avoid picking up or restraining cats unless necessary for medical treatment.

A local veterinary clinic provides medical care for the cats on Cat Island. Veterinarians spay and neuter cats to help control the population. Sick and injured cats also receive treatment. Volunteers help capture feral cats that need veterinary care. The veterinarians partner with local cat rescue organizations to find homes for friendly cats open to adoption. This human care and oversight helps ensure the cat population stays healthy despite living freely on the island (Source).

The influx of tourists to Cat Island provides an economic boost to the small fishing community. Local shops sell cat-themed souvenirs and merchandise. Restaurants cater to the cat-loving tourists. While most islanders welcome the tourism dollars, some residents complain about issues like noise and litter from the extra visitors. Overall, the cat population draws positive international attention and financial benefits to the remote island.

Population Control Efforts

In recent years, there have been efforts to control the cat population on Cat Island through spaying and neutering programs. In 2018, the local government announced a plan to spay and neuter all of the cats on the island in order to reduce the total population ( This was in response to concerns from animal welfare groups about disease, inbreeding, and starvation due to overpopulation.

The spay and neuter program involves trapping the cats, transporting them to a nearby island for the surgery, and then returning them to Cat Island once recovered. As of 2021, around 80% of the cat population on the island had been sterilized ( In addition to controlling the population, the surgeries help improve the general health and wellbeing of the cats.

There have also been efforts to rehome some of the friendlier cats through adoption programs. Local animal welfare groups take cats off the island and try to find homes for them in Japan and overseas. However, the majority of cats remain on the island.

While the spay and neuter program has been relatively successful so far, controlling the island’s cat population continues to be an ongoing challenge. More adoptions and consistent management of new arrivals will likely be needed to find a sustainable balance.

Controversies and Ethical Concerns

While Cat Island attracts visitors and media attention for its large feline population, it has also drawn criticism from animal welfare advocates. Groups like PETA have raised concerns about the health and well-being of the island’s cats.

One major concern is overpopulation. With limited space and resources on the small island, some fear the cat population is too high to be sustained in a humane manner. Overcrowding can lead to the spread of disease and competition for food [1]. Some cats appear malnourished, while others have visible injuries or illnesses.

There are also worries that the cats are damaging the island’s ecosystem. As predators, the cats may be threatening indigenous species like birds and small mammals. Their feces and urine could also pollute the environment. Some believe population control measures should be implemented to protect the island’s ecological balance.

Additionally, [2] some critics argue that the island has become a tourist attraction at the expense of proper animal care. Tour groups feed the cats despite dietary concerns. Meanwhile, the cats largely subsist on fish scraps from the island’s fishing industry rather than a balanced diet.

While Cat Island is beloved by cat enthusiasts, it remains controversial from an animal welfare perspective. Ongoing oversight and updated policies may be needed to ensure humane treatment of the cats.

The Future of the Cat Population

The future sustainability of the cat population on Aoshima Island remains uncertain. While the island currently has a stable cat population of around 120 cats according to a 2015 census, there are concerns about the population growing too large and becoming unsustainable without intervention.

Some predict that without a spay and neuter program, the population could grow significantly in coming years and put pressure on the island’s ecosystem. According to the mayor of Ehime prefecture, they are developing a plan to spay and neuter all of the cats on the island to control the population. However, the details and timeline of this plan are still being worked out.

Other efforts are also underway to manage the population humanely, including finding foster and permanent homes for kittens born on the island. There is hope that a balance can be achieved between protecting the cherished cat colony on Aoshima and ensuring the population remains at a sustainable level.

While the path forward is complicated, many believe the island’s future depends on compassionate management of the cat population. With care and planning, the island’s feline residents and humans can continue coexisting peacefully. The cats have become an iconic part of Aoshima, and most wish to see them thrive there for years to come.


In summary, Cat Island is home to an unusually large population of feral and stray cats. While the exact number is unknown, estimates put the cat population in the hundreds or possibly over a thousand. These cats hold a special place in the island’s ecosystem and have become part of the island’s identity. Understanding the origins, daily lives, and future prospects of the cats gives insight into how human activity can dramatically impact an environment and local animal populations. The Cat Island cats have managed to carve out a sustainable, if tenuous, niche for themselves. However, concerns remain over the effects of inbreeding as well as disease transmission. Going forward, finding an ethical balance between controlling the cat population and allowing the island ecosystem to function naturally will be an ongoing challenge. Despite uncertainties, the Cat Island cats have shown resilience and adaptability, mesmerizing visitors and residents with their abundant presence. As one of the only places in the world dominated by cats, Cat Island presents a unique case study for human-animal interactions and Rewri and living sustainably within a delicate island habitat.

Scroll to Top