Cat island that needs to lose that lovin' feline

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 19, 2014

The cat is king on St John's Island, believed to be Singapore's only southern isle with a stray cat population.

The 80 to 100 felines there not only outnumber the island's handful of residents, but they also live a life of relative comfort. Islanders and visitors feed them regularly, there is little threat to their lives, and they spend carefree days ambling about the 41ha isle about the size of Gardens by the Bay.

But they also breed freely, and the risk of overpopulation has concerned the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Yesterday, a team of 24 staff and volunteers returned to the island for the sixth time since 2010 to neuter as many as they could.

They will spend three days there trapping about 40 cats, then neutering and releasing them.

They also plan to bring kittens they find on the island, which is home to research centres run by the National University of Singapore and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, back to the mainland for adoption.

"If we don't (sterilise them), within three years the island could be overrun," said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong. Overpopulation, she explained, would lead to disease spreading and in-fighting as the cats tussle for food and space.

The origins of St John's cat colony are unclear, even to long-time islanders.

But the SPCA has spotted 15 exotic purebred cats such as Russian Blues and Persians they suspect were abandoned there by visiting owners or breeders.

"It's not inconceivable. There are no CCTVs, and the island receives so many visitors," said Ms Fong. Just yesterday, the team came across a new purebred cat which they believe was abandoned recently.

The cats do have a better life there than on the mainland, Ms Fong conceded. There are no cars to run over them, no abuse cases, no complaints from humans, and there is space to roam.

Singapore witnessed several horrific cases of cat abuse last year, including one where a cat was decapitated.

Even so, the SPCA hopes owners will stop abandoning cats there and worsening the overpopulation.

Resident Mohamed Sulih, 67, who was born on St John's, agrees. The retiree has adopted three of the island's cats and feeds countless more, but said the island just has too many.

"I cannot feed all of them, and they keep giving birth," he said.

Ms Fong said the society would have to return to St John's regularly to contain the cat numbers. It is a voyage they are more than willing to take, though, she added.

"The cats are adorable, and they are a nice touch to the island. I just hope they can live out their lives peacefully."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 19, 2014

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