We spent Christmas Eve this year visiting the cats at St. John’s Island, Singapore’s very own cat island. Along with two of our faculty advisors, Ronald Lim and Jow Lee Ying, we headed over with St. John Island Cats (SJIC) and Ms Angela, the trip’s head organiser, to feed and check on the cats and to learn from these experienced volunteers how a community volunteer network like ourselves work.
Here’s some historical background: St. John Island used to be a quarantine area for people who suffered from contagious disease in the early 20th century, and it was only in 1974 that the island changed to what it is today.
With the island 30 mins away from the mainland, it was rather surprising when the local cat population exploded. St. John Island became a place of poor health and malnutrition for the cats, and cat welfare organisations on the mainland soon became concerned.
It was through a Trap, Neuter, Return, Manage (TNRM) program and close cooperation with foreign workers and island residents that the welfare and population of the felines started to stabilise; a situation that was very similar to what our own Pulau NTU had before volunteers stepped in.
The foreign workers are the backbone of the volunteer work as they are the daily feeders for the some 100-120 cats on the island.
There are several feeding stations on the island and we went from station to station – the first being the ‘Blue House’, so named due to the colour of the wooden building.
These are the dwelling places of the few elderly local residents that still resides on the island – the last of which are slated to leave by New Year’s. The cats will still get to stay on the island, however:
We learned that the cat food they had were all donated and collected by SJIC; volunteers donate and collect cat food and the SJIC brings them to the foreign workers once or twice per month.
Wet food is considered a rare treat for these island cats as their main staple has always been cheap, dry food; in fact the workers who volunteer to feed the cats are often busy and cannot spend time to prepare wet food for them.
The next stop was at the junction between the pier, the workers’ dormitory and the bridge to Lazarus Island, which is guarded by some very hungry kitties.
The kitties also have an unusual habit of putting their paw onto the paper plates to prevent it from moving as they eat.
We then spent some time after the cats were done eating to give the superstars a treatment of petting and cuddling, and filled our smartphones and cameras with photos of them in quirky poses.
Afterward, we went to the workers’ dormitory, home to the largest colony of cats on the island – with the majority of them spending their time outside of the island’s only mosque.
The stampede of cats and their collective meowing is like the choir of angels announcing the arrival of the divine chariot. It was celestial chaos trying to get the plates and food to ensure every cats have something to eat. After the clowder of cats was done eating, some of the volunteers took the time to apply anti-infection cream on the cats that had wounds.
Our last stop was at the end of Lazarus Island, in a small resort building at Seringat Island next to the island’s ferry terminal. This spot is home to six two-year-old cats and is home to Disco the cat – who judges the humans who dock their yachts in the island’s waters at night, take over the buildings and dance to loud music.
This tiny colony of cats used to be much bigger – with a peak of more than 10 members and some month-old kittens two years back. It was said that a few fell into the water and some were adopted by wealthy visitors of the tiny resort building.
Our short four-hour trip to cat heaven guided by its experienced caretakers was fulfilling as we gained much knowledge and experience; we are considering making the trip the St. John a yearly event.
If you would like to support the St John Island Cats, head over here to donate through the Animal Human Alliance. Follow them on Facebook if you’d like to join them on one of their supply trips to cat heaven!
We’ll also be planning more upcoming events, so do keep a lookout on our Facebook page for more updates.