Can Stray Cats Save This Taiwan Town?

The tiny island of Hujing off the coast of Taiwan is a dying community looking to its stray cat population for salvation. Saddled with an ageing population of just 200 people and too few jobs, its future is none too bright. So the six remaining students at the community's only school came up with the idea of using the island's hundreds of stray cats to try and rope in tourists.

Hujing Elementary School's principal, Lin Yan-ling, said the students were inspired by the success of other cat town/island destinations in the region. "On some small islands in Japan — due to the abundance of felines — foreigners have been lured in and the cats have become famous tourist attractions leading to young people also returning and helping the community," she told the ABC. There's no shortage of social media posts about these pawpular tourist destinations, and cat lovers are willing to travel the globe to see large pawpulations of stray cats. Case in point: Houtong Cat Village. A traveler from Singapore posted, "A place totally for cat lovers!!! As me and my partner travel there during the rainy season, not a lot of cats roam around. But you will still see some kitties around still! Especially over at the cat cafes!"

Another tourist wrote, "Even though I was only in Houtong for a limited amount of time, I definitely got excited by all the cat stuff I saw. They were even selling cat cookies. I will definitely visit Houtong again in the future and go to the Cat Village next time."

There's no official playbook for these communities to follow to be designated as "cat towns" or "cat islands," but it's not simply a matter of setting up a Facebook fan page and waiting for the cat ladies to pour in. There needs to be a significant pawpulation of cats, the programs to manage and care for them, and the development of public art, shops, murals, etc., to draw tourists in and pursuade them to empty their wallets.

A sculpture in the Houtong cat village in Taiwan

In Hujing, they've focused on crafting cat-themed items to sell to tourists while inviting artists to the island to create cat-themed public art. The students took photos of local cats and printed them onto bags and cards made out of recycled clothes — they even turned the public mailbox outside the front of the school into a giant cat.

"The students hoped to create a series of cat island projects based on caring about the cats on the island as well as helping local tourism development," said principal Lin. "They also turn photos of the cats of Hujing into postcard sales, and then use the proceeds of the charity as a fund for cat food and veterinarian fees."

The islanders hope Taiwan, which was the home of the first-ever cat cafe, will be a source of tourist traffic, but Hujing has some stiff competition. Houtong, located on Taiwan's north coast is already famous as a "cat village". The town’s population had declined to around a hundred inhabitants by the mid 2000s, half that of the 200+ cat population. Locals started posting pictures of the cats online and cat lovers began to visit. The village now draws nearly a million visitors annually, and is listed among the country’s biggest tourist draws.

Hujing's students are motivated by the hope that they can achieve that kind of success, but logistics may get in the way. While Houtong is a short train ride from Tapei, Hujing is more of a slog, requiring an hour-long flight and a boat trip. Principal Lin thinks there’s enough cat love to go round, but is realistic about the amount of money that could be generated from their efforts. If nothing else, it's a learning experience for the children, and the cats will undoubtedly be well fed, she says.

 

 

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Category: Featured, Lifestyle, Travel

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  1. I hope that Taiwan has a TNR program for these cats!

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