A purr-fect solution to cat boom on Pulau Bukom

Cats being prepared for transfer from Pulau Bukom to the mainland to get sterilised.
Cats being prepared for transfer from Pulau Bukom to the mainland to get sterilised.PHOTO: SHELL

SINGAPORE - A population boom since 2019 has catapulted the number of cats up to about 400 on offshore island Pulau Bukom, oil giant Shell's manufacturing site off southern Singapore.

The surge made "Bukomites" - what the staff call themselves - worry at first, fearing the animals' presence at manufacturing process areas would result in accidents on the 243ha island.

The real estate facilities manager at Shell Bukom, Mr Siow Lee Aun, said previous Pulau Bukom residents could have kept cats and left them behind when they relocated to the mainland. The number of cats climbed as they were not sterilised.

The employees have since learnt to live with the animals, even setting up a "cat sanctuary" to keep them in a non-hazardous part of the island.

Through humane management efforts, the cat population now remains stable at around 350, after about 60 were adopted.

Shell engaged the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) for its trap-neuter-return-manage (TNRM) programme to handle the population growth that shot up in March 2019, said Mr Siow.

He told The Straits Times: "In the plant, we have high-temperature pipes and other materials used for the refining and chemical manufacturing process. Their actions may, in the worst-case scenario, result in an operational incident such as a fire, putting them and our workers at risk."

To avoid a catastrophe, TNRM operations started in November 2019 and are ongoing, with CWS contractors and volunteers making about 50 trips and trapping 401 cats so far.

Some 334 were returned to Pulau Bukom after they were sterilised.

Covid-19 restrictions posed a challenge, as the circuit breaker last year meant CWS was not able to conduct the programme for a few months and the cat population grew even further.

There were workers who diligently cared for the cats, and Mr Siow said they initially wanted to rehome all of them.

"But we quickly realised that this was a tall order," he added, referring to the big number.

Mr Siow Lee Aun, real estate facilities manager at Shell Bukom, with a cat hut inside a "cat sanctuary" set up on Pulau Bukom. PHOTO: SHELL

Now, a group of workers are putting together a long-term maintenance programme to provide food and medical attention for the cats when the sanctuary is fully built.

To make the cats feel at home, they built individual cat huts within the free-roaming sanctuary.

On its involvement on Pulau Bukom, CWS president Thenuga Vijakumar said: "We had a lot of space to cover, but we worked systematically and were able to make quick progress. We were able to ensure no further incoming cats as it is an offshore island.

"Shell Bukom made a conscious decision on their side to be humane, which I applaud."

Mr Siow said: "We are committed to giving them good care while continuing to rehome them if possible. To us, these cats are also Bukomites."

Ms Thenuga added that sterilisation is the most effective and humane way to stabilise community cat numbers.

National Parks Board (NParks) group director of community animal management Jessica Kwok said nearly 22,000 cats have been sterilised under its Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme since 2011.

CWS is one of the administrators of this scheme, with the Animal and Veterinary Service - a cluster under NParks - subsidising part of the sterilisation cost for each cat.