Despite ancient relationships with cats, Cyprus is inundated with stray dogs
By Michèle Kambas
NICOSIA (Reuters) – Every day at dawn, as Dinos Ayiomamitis’s small truck slowly travels the path of a cemetery, cats quietly emerge from surrounding gravestones.
“There you go, Soft Bourekka,” he mutters, using a loving Cypriot term, as the animals circle his paws and wait for him to collect food in the back of his van for them to eat.
Ayiomamitis is one of the many volunteers who struggle to feed the thousands of stray cats on the Mediterranean island.
“There hasn’t been an official tally, but based on our own assessment, that equates to at least the number of people,” said Ayiomamitis, who feeds up to 200 cats a day at various locations around the Cypriot capital Nicosia.
“We envision a feral cat population approaching one million, that’s a rough estimate,” said Ayiomamitis, president of Cat PAWS.
Cyprus’s affiliation with cats dates back thousands of years. In 2004, French archaeologists brought back what was described at the time as the first historical record of the domestication of cats, in a 9,500-year-old burial site.
In 400 AD, Helena of Constantinople reportedly sent cargoes of cats to the island to hunt poisonous snakes.
At a cat sanctuary 80 km (65 miles) from the capital, volunteers find abandoned cats and their kittens thrown outside the fence almost every day.
Malcolm’s Cats, a sanctuary named after its founder Malcolm CP Stevenson, is home to around 200 cats. Here they are kept in a safe and clean environment with access to food and vets.
About a hundred are relocated each year, but the number of arrivals greatly exceeds departures.
“Lots of unsterilized and unsterilized cats means a lot of kittens every year. People are constantly calling us and throwing cats outside,” said David Fender, director of operations and president of the Malcolm Cat Protection Society.
In recent years, the state has set aside 75,000 euros per year for the sterilization of cats. This year’s program began on June 1, but with a population of balloon cats, Fender and Ayiomamitis called it a drop in the ocean.
“The numbers have to be controlled, and they have to be controlled in a human way, in an organized, government-led manner,” Fender said.
The sanctuary sits on the edge of a sprawling peninsula at the southern tip of Cyprus which itself has close ties to animals. A nearby monastery is dedicated to ‘St. Nicolas of the cats and it was once said that he had two bells; one to call people to prayer, and a second to call cats.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Mike Collett-White)