Cat Island’s Feline Feeding Frenzy. Who Keeps These Kitties Well-Fed?


Cat Island is located in the central Bahamas and is part of the District of Exuma. The island is roughly 6 miles wide and stretches for nearly 20 miles in a north-south direction ( Cat Island has a long history dating back to 1783 when cotton plantations were established by American Loyalists. The island was named for Arthur Catt, an early European settler, and was once home to many plantations that relied on slave labor. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, many of the plantations went bankrupt and the island’s economy collapsed. The island is now sparsely populated with only around 1,500 permanent residents. However, the island has a large population of feral cats that likely traces its origins to the pets of early settlers and plantation owners. It is estimated there are around 6,000 cats on Cat Island, making the felines outnumber the human population by 4 to 1. The large population of free-roaming cats on the island has become both a point of fascination and controversy over the years.

Origins of the Cat Population

The island of Tashirojima, also known as Cat Island, is located in Ishinomaki City off the coast of Japan. According to Wikipedia, cats first arrived on the island over 100 years ago when they were brought by fishermen who lived on the island [1]. The cats helped control the mouse population which prevented mice from eating the fishermen’s food supplies. Over time, the number of cats greatly multiplied. When the human population on the island declined in the 1960s, the cats were left behind and formed a large stray cat colony.

An article on Slate explains that the cats on the island trace their ancestry back about 12 generations to the original working cats brought by fishermen in the Edo period [2]. The fishermen valued the cats for their mousing abilities and fed them fish scraps. This allowed the cats to thrive and reproduce. Today, the stray cat population is managed by feeding stations set up by volunteers.

Diet and Feeding

The feral cats on Aoshima, also known as Cat Island, subsist mostly on fish and other seafood that they forage from the island’s shoreline and catch in the water. The abundance of fish around the island provide the cats with their main source of food. Video footage shows the cats dexterously catching fish along the water’s edge and quickly carrying their catch away to eat (

The cats have become skilled anglers during their time foraging on the island. They patiently wait to snatch passing fish or plunge their heads into the water to emerge with a wriggling fish grasped in their jaws. The cats even climb down coastal cliffs to reach rock pools teeming with crabs and shellfish. Their diet consists primarily of various fish, crabs, squid, and octopus caught from the seas surrounding the island.

The cats receive some additional feeding from fishermen and tourists who visit the island. Cats will gather expectantly when boats arrive, hoping for some extra fish or scraps. While not their main food source, supplemental feeding from humans provides a little extra sustenance. Overall, the cats have largely adapted to survive independently off the island’s natural resources.

Population Management

The cat population on Aoshima first grew large decades ago when fishermen brought cats to the island to help control the rodent population. However, without spaying and neutering, the cat population grew out of control over time. By 2014, there were over 120 cats on the island, even though only a handful of humans lived there (Japan’s Most Famous Cat Island Moving Towards Plan to Spay Neuter All of Its Kitty Inhabitants).

To manage the booming cat population, efforts have been made in recent years to spay and neuter cats on the island. In 2018, government officials announced a plan to spay and neuter all the cats on Aoshima to prevent the population from continuing to grow (Japan’s Most Famous Cat Island Moving Towards Plan to Spay Neuter All of Its Kitty Inhabitants). Animal welfare groups assisted by bringing in vets to perform spay and neuter surgeries. The goal is to stabilize and gradually reduce the cat population to a more sustainable level.

According to recent estimates, there are now between 120-130 cats on Aoshima, down slightly from the peak in 2014 (How many cats are there on “Cat Island” Aoshima, Japan). Ongoing spay/neuter efforts aim to carefully control population growth so the community of cats can live healthy lives on the island without endangering local wildlife or overrunning the small human population.

Health and Medical Care

The large population of cats on Cat Island poses some health and medical challenges. Common health issues seen in the cats include Upper Respiratory Infections (URI), ear mites, fleas, intestinal parasites, and injuries from fights. The cats are prone to severe medical issues as they age, like cancers, if they are not spayed/neutered. Japan’s Cat Islands: Good for Tourists (But Bad for Cats).

To help control the cat population and improve feline health on Cat Island, Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs have been implemented. In TNR programs, stray and feral cats are humanely trapped, spayed/neutered by veterinarians, and then returned to their outdoor home. TNR stops the breeding cycle and colony growth over time. The Japan Cat Network has partnered with local governments on Cat Island to run TNR initiatives. Japan’s most famous cat island moving towards plan to spay/neuter all of its kitty inhabitants.

There are also veterinary clinics on Cat Island that can provide medical treatment to sick and injured cats. However, the sheer number of cats makes it difficult to provide veterinary care to all of them. The TNR programs aim to gradually reduce the overall population to more manageable levels.

Humans Living on Cat Island

Cat Island has a small local human population that lives alongside the large feral cat community. According to the book Cat Island: The History of a Mississippi Gulf Coast Barrier Island, some of the first people living on Cat Island were Nicholas (Ladner) Christian, his wife, Marianne, and ten children, José Morin and his wife, Marie Louise. Today there are still a few dozen permanent residents on the island.

The local human inhabitants have a complex relationship with the island’s feral cats. Many of the residents provide food, water, and medical care for the cats. Some locals have even established small shelters and veterinary clinics to help care for the cats. However, the large cat population also causes issues for the human residents, like damages to property, loud noises, and concern over diseases spreading between the cats. It’s an ongoing balance for the people living on Cat Island to manage and care for the cats while also dealing with the challenges of having hundreds of feral cats roaming around.

Overall, the human population on Cat Island seems dedicated to protecting and caring for the island’s feral cats within reason, though managing such a large cat colony in a small area remains an immense task. The cats are a defining feature of the island’s ecosystem and identity, so preserving the population is important to the locals, despite the difficulties involved.


Cat Island has become an increasingly popular tourist destination in recent years, known for its beautiful beaches, diving sites, and of course the famous feline inhabitants. The island’s remote location and lack of development has helped preserve its natural beauty. However, the growth of tourism has started to impact the local cat population.

Visitors are drawn by the novelty of an island overrun by feral cats. Many tourists seek out the cats to photograph and interact with them. This sudden influx of human attention can be disruptive to the cats’ normal behavior. Cats that become accustomed to being fed by tourists may become dependent on humans for food. They may also lose their fear of people and expose themselves to potential harm.

Increased development and construction on Cat Island to support tourism could also encroach on areas that serve as habitat for the cats. Some conservationists have raised concerns about the long-term sustainability of tourism on such a small, ecologically sensitive island.

Overall, Cat Island’s tourism success has been a double-edged sword for its feline population. If not managed carefully, too much human interaction and development could upset the delicate balance that has allowed the island’s cats to thrive thus far. Conservation efforts will be key to ensure tourism revenue does not come at the expense of the island’s most iconic inhabitants.

[Cite The Hermitage on Mt Alvernia, Cat Island (n.d.)]

Conservation Efforts

Protecting the ecosystem and wildlife on Cat Island is a major priority alongside caring for the cats. The Cat Island Conservation Institute (CICI) was formed in 2019 with a mission to advance conservation efforts and research on Cat Island (Cat Island Conservation Institute). CICI conducts ecological assessments, monitors endangered species, removes invasive plants, and educates the local community about conservation.

CICI works closely with the Bahamian government’s Department of Agriculture to humanely manage the cat population while protecting the island’s biodiversity. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs are utilized to control reproduction and vaccinate cats against diseases. These efforts help strike a balance between the cats and other native wildlife sharing the island habitat.

Sustainability initiatives led by groups like the Youth Marine Explorers (YME) are also teaching Cat Island residents eco-friendly practices, waste management solutions, and the importance of environmental stewardship. Their education and outreach programs empower the local community to become conservation leaders.

Ongoing ecological research and mindful human intervention aim to preserve Cat Island’s diverse ecosystems alongside its iconic feline inhabitants. With continued community involvement and support from conservation organizations, this remote Bahamian island can remain a haven for endangered wildlife species as well as the free-roaming cats.

The Future of the Cat Population

The sustainability of supporting the large cat colony on Cat Island long-term faces some challenges. According to a 2023 NHK World documentary, the island’s human population has declined to around 100, with only a few young children living there now ( With an aging population and fewer residents, maintaining the cat population will become more difficult over time.

Reddit users discussing the island note that the large cat population is not natural, but the result of humans bringing cats there and feeding them leftover fish for decades ( As the human population declines, the consistent food source for the cats may also decline. Stray and feral cat populations rely on humans providing food sources, whether intentionally or unintentionally through trash. Without enough food from humans, the large cat colony on Cat Island may not be sustainable in the long run.

Possible solutions could include working to boost the human population, recruiting more visitors and volunteers to help care for the cats, or creating an endowment fund to pay for cat food and medical care. However, the remote island location poses challenges. Creative solutions will likely be needed to ensure this unique cat colony continues to thrive.


Cats on Cat Island owe their wellbeing to compassionate caretakers and animal lovers who ensure they are fed, kept healthy, and their population is managed. This remote island is home to a large feral cat colony that relies on volunteers and organizations to provide food, water, medical care and population control measures. Without this dedicated care, the cats could quickly become malnourished, sick, overpopulated, and face threats from the environment and tourists.

The cats hold a special place in local lore and culture, with residents and tourists affectionately referring to the island as “Cat Island” due to the feline residents. While the origin of the cats is unclear, they have become an integral part of the island ecosystem and allure for visitors. Their future depends on continued efforts to humanely care for the colony. With ongoing support, the cats of Cat Island can live healthy lives as part of a unique island population.

This remote island and its famous feline residents serve as an inspirational example of humane population management and compassion for animals. The cats’ story underscores the importance of spaying/neutering and providing care for outdoor cat colonies. With dedication from volunteers, organizations and tourists, the cats of Cat Island have thrived. This collaborative compassion for our furry friends represents the best of human nature.

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