Dwindling cat population

There are a few islands called "Cat Island" in Japan. The most famous one is Aoshima in Ehime prefecture, but there's a smaller one called Umashima near the Kokura port in Kitakyushu's Kokurakita Ward in Western Japan.

Sadly, as we reported last year, Umashima's feline population has severely dwindled from a total of around 90 in 2014 to around 30 more recently, and poisoning has been suspected.

Suspect finally charged

When we reported on this sad situation in August 2019, Masami Takeshita of the Taisetsuna Nekotachi (precious cats) Project was getting ready to file a criminal complaint after seeking cooperation from the Fukuoka-based nonprofit Stopping-Cruelty-to-Animals Testament (SCAT) in an investigation which revealed eyewitness accounts of strange-looking food being left around the island, groups of cats looking lifeless and dying, and over 40 accounts of seeing once-healthy cats foaming at the mouth and collapsing.

Fortunately for the feline residents of Umashima and much to the relief of its human inhabitants and animal-lovers everywhere, SCAT filed the complaint in October 2019 and it has finally resulted in legal action.

Today, the Mainichi Newspaper reported that a man in his 80s who lives on Umashima was charged on June 5th with violating the Law of Humane Treatment and Management of Animals and the Wildlife Protection Act, suspected with having killed cats and crows with poison-laced food.

Responding to a Mainichi reporter last year, the man said: "I intended exterminating or scaring off crows. I didn't know cats would come."

If the eyewitness accounts are all true and no other residents were involved, this would mean that this man alone is responsible for causing the painful deaths of nearly 60 cats in the last five years, and possibly an unspecified number of crows.

SCAT Representative Director of SCAT Ms. Sachie Yamazaki stated: "The revised Law of Humane Treatment and Management of Animals, now stricter than before, went into effect on (June) 1st. We hope that the result (of these charges) will lead to the prevention of animal abuse." Under the revised law, the punishment for killing cats, whether domesticated or feral, has increased from up to two years in prison or 2 million JPY in fines to up to five years in prison and 5 million yen in fines.

Come visit Umashima

Since Kitakyushu is only about an hour by train from Fukuoka, tourists sometimes stop by and visit Umashima and its cats as a side destination when they travel to the area. It may be a bit off the beaten track, but the small island’s charm and its feline population makes it worthwhile.

And now that the cats are presumably out of harm's way, it could be a great time to visit Umashima (as soon as it's safe to do so) to show your support.

By - Ben K.