Cats of St John's Island

Some of the cats found on the island are pedigree cats.

Away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore, St John's Island looks like tranquil place for a quick getaway. Particularly, it is a paradise for cats who laze and lounge in the sun all day.

Just a short boat ride away from the Marina South Pier, the former quarantine area is home to about a hundred stray cats. In fact, the moment you alight at the island's jetty, you'll be greeted by a very special welcome committee.

There are about five to six cat colonies on St John's Island and this is just one of them. Razor is here with about 35 cats at the local mosque on the island, and as you can see, they're very friendly and very used to human contact.

But as cute as they can be, too much of a good thing can become a problem.

A few years ago, the overpopulation problem here was brought to the attention of the SPCA. The food shortage and malnutrition issues which arose from the population boom caused a bigger problem - the cats here were more vulnerable to widespread diseases. So, the SPCA started a mass sterilisation programme in 2011 to keep the population at bay.

Corrine Fong, executive director of SPCA said, "When we first came in 2011, the island was over run by unsterilised cats. The problem of unsterilised cats is that you will see a population boom. Population in itself is not the biggest issue, the biggest issue is the transmission of cat diseases and so forth."

"Then with the population boom, you will have cats who are the stronger ones will survive. The weak ones will have to fight for food scraps. And death may occur due to malnutrition and malnourishment and so forth. What we want to do is to maintain the population so that there is enough food source to go around."

"We came in with the proposition that we will do TNR, which is Trap, Neuter, Release. Day one we will come here and trap all the cats that we can. The will be housed in a makeshift pre-op area, un-fed. Because fed cats will not be able to do well under anaesthesia. Out of the 15 we wanted to trap, we trapped about 10. The only way we recognised the sterilised cats from the unsterilised ones is by the ear tip."

"This morning, second day, the vets came to the island at about 9.30, we started setting up shop at 10 o'clock and surgery's started already."

"The animals will be patched up and put in post-op area and be observed. If everything is well, then tomorrow, we will leave a skeleton crew behind to release the cats. Now the cats will be tagged at the location where they were last caught, so the crew will transport them back to that location, feed them, and then release them back to the spot they were found."

"This being our seventh visit, we know now that the unsterilised ones have been reduced significantly because of the sterilisation programme. And this will definitely be the last visit to the island."

"We've asked the caretakers and the folks at AVA, that if they spot a pregnant cat or kitten to just bring it to us on the mainland. We'll sterilise them, return them to the island, and set them free here."

Mohd Salleh, a resident on St John's Island said, "My neighbour has about 20 cats. There are about 50-60 cats around this area, and more up the hills that I don't know about. Lazarus island has four to five."

"Every month my friend from the welfare organisation gives me one bag of cat food. Other than that I also buy my own."

"I used to spend about 60-70 dollars on cat food, and now I might even have to spend more. because I feed them, and they keep coming to my house. Because they know here got food."

"Although there were a lot of cats before, they are starting to decrease in number. Because if people find the cats pretty, they will come and take them. They'll even take away the cats that hang around my house. They mainly take away kittens."

"Because both islands have a lot of cats, at night some people might come and leave their cats there. That was in the 60s and 70s, but now no more. As fair as I know, I haven't seen any after that."

Corrine added, " On our previous visits, we found several purebred cats like Russian blues and Persians. We don't know where they're from, and the caretakers say they belong to them. But I suspect that they've been some dumpings here on the island. And I would advise breeders and owners to not dump cats on the island."

"No doubt St John's Island is also known as a cat colony, but when you introduce new unsterilised animals to the island, you create a lot of social and hierarchical problems within the colony. Do the right thing, don't dump your cats on the island."

On St John's Island, cats rule. And they are safe to live out the rest of their nine lives.