Kumamoto: Students strive for feline well-being on ‘cat island’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Students examine a cat on Aug. 22 on Yushima island, Kumamoto Prefecture.

KAMI-AMAKUSA, Kumamoto — People in need of “healing” have been flocking to a remote island filled with cats in Kyushu’s Ariake Sea.

About 200 ownerless cats live on Yushima island in Kami-Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, while the human population is 280.

With little need to worry about car accidents, and a fishing industry that appears to keep the cats well fed, the island has burgeoned into a feline paradise and their carefree attitudes and lack of fear when it comes to humans has been attracting tourists who want to find comfort by being around cats.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Recent figures show that about 20,000 tourists visit the island each year, according to the Kami-Amakusa city government.

To make the island more hospitable for cats, about 20 students from Tokai University Kumamoto have been compiling a cat database by recording their whereabouts and health status. Their aim is to make the island a “cats-first” spot.

“I believe if we know the status of the cats and provide that [information] to residents and tourists, it will help us coexist,” said one of the students.

In late July, the students selected several cats, attached GPS devices to their collars and started collecting behavioral information.

On Aug. 22, they measured several cats’ length and weight and listened to their heartbeats with a stethoscope.

The students plan to add to the database by compiling more measurements and conducting field surveys. They are also considering developing an app that informs users about the cats’ territories and how each cat should be treated.

Aiko Hayashi, 44, is a caretaker of the islands’ cats. She has named all of the cats, keeps records of their sterilization and vaccination status and is excited about the students’ activities.

“If we can promote the island as a ‘cat-first’ island,” she said, “more people will get to know the cats on Yushima.”