Cats in Ainoshima
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 5 places around the world where cats have basically taken charge

Stubborn, independent and fickle: cats are pretty self-reliant at the best of times. But in these places, they’re boss

Sophie Dickinson

Cats are capricious creatures, and cat owners make a pretty weird deal with their pets. Think about buying your kitten a lush, luxurious basket to sleep in, and they’ll almost certainly prefer a cardboard box. Feed them line-caught tuna rather than a standard tin of food, and you’re hardly guaranteed a cuddle. 

But it’s that fickle, independent mindset that draws so many of us to these mysterious felines. And in some places around the world, they've been given free rein of entire towns all because of that oh-so-charming stubbornness. Here are five locations across the globe where the cats may have started out as pest control – but are now basically in charge. Dog lovers, look away.

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Places with the most stray cats

1. Houtong Cat Village, Taiwan

The cats of Houtong in Taiwan aren’t merely neighbours to the human population. The whole village has gone absolutely cat-mad, down to the architecture: the bridge that links its shopping district to the train station has cat-friendly platforms to make their lives easier. You’ll find the animals chilling under souvenir stands (which play sounds of meowing instead of music) and in – you guessed it – cat-themed restaurants.

Ernest Hemingway was a real character. The type of guy who would be given a six-toed cat by a sailor, name her Snow White, then let her breed indiscriminately, taking over his Key West home. Hemingway might not be around any more, but there are now 60 polydactyl cats at the house. The writer even installed a fountain in his garden – made out of an old urinal – so his feline housemates could rehydrate in the Florida sun. 


3. Ainoshima, Japan

Cats are believed to outnumber humans by ten to one on the tiny island of Ainoshima in Japan. They arrived here via the mice-infested boats of fishermen, who adopted them as pest control. Now they hang out on the harbourfront and enjoy generous snacks doled out by both sailors and increasing numbers of tourists.

The British Museum (sort of) had cats on the payroll in the 1960s. These furry employees were supposed to rid the exhibition spaces of mice and pigeons, but they weren’t neutered and fast became a semi-feral, hundred-strong family. Eventually, a charity was founded to find homes in London for them, but not before newspapers claimed they’d gained super-intelligence from living among all the priceless artefacts. 


5. Istanbul

Istanbul is known as the ‘city of cats’ for good reason. The feline population congregates around popular sights like the Hagia Sophia (and even have official permission to enter mosques across the city). A lot of them are pretty feral, but they’re kept plump and happy by residents who leave out food. Apparently, there’s been a huge population of strays here for thousands of years, maing them as historically significant as the city itself. 

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