The moment you step off the airplane or cruise ship onto Cyprus soil, you are likely to trip over one of the many stray cats on the island. They are everywhere.
Perhaps the large number of cats in Cyprus isn’t so strange. My research revealed that the evidence for the first domesticated cats can be traced back to Cyprus, the Middle East and Egypt thousands of years ago. So Cyprus is, in fact, the birthplace of the domesticated cat. But what is going on with the cats in Cyprus today?
To put it bluntly, the population of cats is out of control. Animal welfare groups report the number of cats on the island at 1.5 million, while the number of people is only 1.2 million. There are more cats in Cyprus than human begins! As you will no doubt see for yourself, some are cute and fluffy. They look cared for and loved like pets. The majority, sadly, are malnourished and covered in sores. They look like death incarnate. It’s heartbreaking to see.
We’ve all come across stray cats in European holiday destinations. They’re a dime a dozen in places like Greece and Cyprus, and people tend to either love them or loathe them.
For those in the former category, seeing thin or injured felines lurking around is a sorry sight to behold. For locals and hotel managers, their presence is a nuisance. Whatever your stance, no-one wins when it comes to an oversized stray cat population.
But one organisation reckons it’s got the solution. Animal Rescue Cyprus, located in Paphos, is persuading luxury resorts to take care of their feline population rather than shoo them away. By providing on-site shelter and food stations, the theory goes, cats have a safe.
It appears that in Cyprus, little value is attached to cats. Most of them are not regarded as pets. They are seen as vermin (much like rats), and as such, the majority of people refuse to take care of them. Some people also believe that animals should be left alone and that nature will take care of itself. Of course, there are a few locals who love and care for the cats, but sadly they are in the fast minority.
Programs to castrate them were funded by the agricultural ministry up until 2011, but funding has been dramatically sliced due to the economic crisis. Locals also refuse to spend a cent to resolve the cat problem. The cats just keep on multiplying! Hence, the feral cat population in Cyprus is increasing as the animals are not sprayed.
When a plague of snakes almost prevented the building of what is now known as the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats, the titular felines were shipped in to save the day.
Construction originally began on the monastery in 327 CE on the island of Cyprus under the patronage of Saint Helena. As legend has it, a terrible drought afflicted the island during this time, allowing countless venomous snakes to proliferate, driving off not only the builders of the monastery, but even island locals.
Helena’s solution to the infestation was to fight snakes with cats, and she had 1,000 of the furry killers shipped to the island from Persia and Egypt. Soon the savior had trained the felines to react to two bells: one signaling feeding time, and the other signaling snake hunting time. After battles that reportedly left the cats missing eyes and noses, the snakes were all but eradicated from the island and the monastery was completed.