NEWS AND COMMENT: Taiwan’s ‘cat village’ is the town of Houtong in the north. It is referred to as a ‘cat village’ because there are hundreds of cats while the population of humans is smaller. And it has become a tourist attraction because of it. It was originally a mining town but the population declined when the mine closed in 1990s.
While the human population declined the cat population increased. A photographer, Jian Peiling, became interested in the place and photographed the cats. She started a blog and apparently has published books on the subject and also organised volunteers to support the cats and arrange for their vaccinations.
Gradually the popularity of the place as a tourist attraction increased. In January 2010, Houtong had about 500 visitors and then along came social media, particularly Facebook, to spread the word together with television programmes which featured the village. CNN, in 2013, described Houtong as one of six places where “cats outshine tourist attractions”.
It is believed that today (before the coronavirus pandemic) almost 1 million visitors arrived at the place to sample restaurants, souvenir shops and to look at the cats.
An undesirable spin-off from this is that there’s been a sharp increase in visitors coming to the place to discard their cats or to steal ones that they desire. One lady, a sixty-five-year-old villager named Zhan Biyun, said that she adopted two female sibling cats about a month old who’d been abandoned at the foot of a cliff, near her home. One of them had beautiful fur. Her name is Baban. She was stolen and later appeared on a website, up for adoption. She adopted her cat again. She was stolen again but this time has never returned. She said:
“There are people who adopt cats without thinking seriously about it, and abandon them as soon as they don’t want them anymore.
The idea of abandoning cats where there is a huge colony of cats is a familiar one to people all over the world. Those people who don’t want to keep their cats seem to think that they can dump them in these colonies as an easy way out. The concept of stealing cats from this large population is a new one for me. But they, too, appear to then dump the cat that they have stolen. It points to a human condition which is unpleasant i.e. cats are non-sentient possessions. Perhaps they want to find a cat who can become a media celebrity to make money and discover that it is harder than they envisaged.
Local government in conjunction with volunteers have been running a sterilisation program (TNR) to stabilise the numbers. If numbers do go up it’s because people are abandoning their cats there. Many of the abandoned cats are ill. Comment: perhaps this is the reason why the cats are abandoned; their owners cannot afford to treat them. That, by the way, is another problem with cat ownership. Often people don’t budget for the cost of it.
Another problem at this huge colony of cats is that sometimes cats are abandoned with an infectious disease which spreads throughout the colony. This happened in 2014 and much of the population died. I don’t know what the disease was (FIP?).
The information centre at the village tells people that abandoning cats is illegal and results in a fine of 150,000 New Taiwan dollars which equates to US$5,119.