The island nation of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean is a melting pot of European and Middle Eastern cultures. Straddling two continents, you can expect dynamic cuisine, year-round sun, and rugged landscapes, but what you’re first likely to notice as you step off the plane onto Cypriot soil is the sheer number of stray cats in Cyprus.
The surplus of furry felines is a long-standing epidemic in Cyprus. A reported two million stray cats to roam the island, reclaiming the empty streets of the resort towns in the low season and rubbing off on the crowds of tourists who flock to Cyprus in the summer months. With just 1.2 million people residing on the island, the amount of felines far surpasses the human population, but you might be wondering, how did they get there?
Our guide takes a look at the stray cat crisis in Cyprus from where they came from to what people think of them and what you can do to help. Let’s get into it.
Why are there so many stray cats in Cyprus?
It’s the sunniest destination in Europe and its year-round warm weather draws more than one million tourists to its golden shores every year. Still, the number of annual visitors doesn’t even exceed the number of stray cats, and Cyprus is an island, so how did they get there?
There are few disputed answers to this, but the escalation of the problem can be attributed to the lack of funding put into neutering and spaying programs. A mere £8,300 is provided by the government every year to tackle the issue. That’s just £1,600 per district, equating to the sterilization of just 25 to 30 cats.
It’s not hard to see why government actions have had little effect on the stray cat crisis. And this isn’t helped by the overriding religious beliefs that animals should be left as ‘God intended them to be’ by most of the population. But it also might not be too hard to understand why numbers are so high in the first place.
Cyprus is actually thought to be one of the birthplaces of domesticated cats. The first evidence of domestic felines can be traced back to the Middle East, Egypt, and nearby Cyprus as many as 3,000 years ago when they were believed to bring good luck to owners and were often depicted as deities. Once seen as mutually beneficial companions, it comes as no surprise that cats haven’t been overshadowed by humans.
Legend also has it, that when Roman Empress Saint Helena was leading the construction of what is now known as the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas in 327 CE, a terrible drought afflicted Cyprus. As a result, the building site was infested with venomous snakes who drove off builders and locals. To tackle the problem, Saint Hellena allegedly shipped in 1,000 cats from Persia and Egypt and had them trained to hunt and kill the pesky serpents. Although many cats came out with missing eyes and limbs, the snakes were eradicated and the cats stuck around.
How do people feel about the stray cats in Cyprus?
Despite the ancient beliefs across Western Asia that cats were, in fact, magical creatures, bringing good luck to households and tied to wealth, it seems these opinions have largely dissipated in Cyprus. The dominant religion on the island is Orthodox Christianity, and although most of the Cypriot people think the cats should be left alone as God intended, little extra value is attached to them.
Many people don’t regard the strays as pets, but as vermin instead, much like rats, and they refuse to take care of them. They’re often seen as a nuisance to business owners, but locals aren’t willing to cough up any more taxes to help fund their sterilization, despite the problems they can cause.
Most villages have a resident ‘cat lady’ or two who looks after cats in the town and might even pay their veterinary bills. There are also feeding stations across the island, usually implemented by charities in a bid to encourage locals to do their bit in caring for the stray felines, but otherwise, there’s nothing to say that residents have to go out of their way to do anything for the stray cats in Cyprus.
How should you deal with stray cats in Cyprus?
It’s easy to tell people to steer clear of stray dogs when disguised aggressive behaviors could result in injury or even death for unsuspecting tourists, but cats aren’t quite so dangerous and it’s highly unlikely that one will ravage you anytime soon. Still, there is just as much chance that they could be carrying diseases as any wild animal, so you might want to think twice before petting them or welcoming them into your holiday home.
Some of the stray cats look cute and fluffy, and some are cared for. But diseases can easily go undetected, and just because a cat isn’t malnourished and covered in sores like many are in Cyprus, doesn’t mean it isn’t harboring lice, ticks, or infections. Cats can carry rabies, which if spread to humans through bites, or more likely, scratches, can cause death. This is uncommon in Cyprus, but not impossible.
Cats don’t just make you sick though. If they get in contact with other cats in your household, they could spread feline leukemia, panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus, which could all prove fatal to your furry friends.
If a stray cat comes up to you for attention in Cyprus, it can be hard to resist. But try not to let a stray cat brush itself closely against your legs for too long, and this could give flees or ticks to cling to your clothing. Although many diseases are invisible, you should look out for aggressive behavior, discharge from the eyes or nose, and coat appearance ie. if they seem to be shedding. These are all signs of illness in cats.
What’s more, cats might not be the most terrifying predators, but they can cause harm and definitely know how to draw blood, inflicting some nasty scratches and bites when they want to. It’s hard to predict feline behavior as it can change in an instant – all the more reason to keep your distance. However, dilated pupils, a flashing tail, hissing or growling, flat ears, and whiskers, standing hair on their necks and backs, or crouching, arching, and backing up, are all telltale signs of an angry cat and you should be careful to give it a wide berth.
You might also have the instinct to feed a stray cat, especially if they look malnourished or seem to be persistently asking for something. Feeding a stray cat is a king act, but remember a few things if you choose to do so. Many businesses in Cyprus don’t like the stray cats because they can deter customers. Therefore, you shouldn’t feed cats from your restaurant table as this can keep them coming back and might be construed as disrespectful. Awful be careful feeding cats in groups. They could get territorial around food and you could cause more harm than good.
What are people doing to help the stray cats in Cyprus?
The agricultural ministry of Cyprus has been funding certain programs to sterilize the stray cats since the late 1990s, but this was cut in 2011 when an economic crisis gripped the island. Now, less than £10,000 is put into the neutering and vaccination of feral felines every year, so they keep reproducing at an exponential rate with little being done to prevent it.
The human population of Cyprus is also uneducated about the importance of sterilization. Although most people see the cats as street vermin and a nuisance to society, they refuse to part with any money to put an end to the problem. Still, some people help to care for the cats on a day-to-day basis, and there are a number of charities going the extra mile to change the way Cyprus faces its stray problem.
Animal Rescue Cyprus, located in the historical resort town of Paphos on the southwest coast, recently launched an initiative to encourage luxury resorts to look out for stray cats rather than shoo them away. The charity promised that on-site shelter and food stations would make cats more relaxed and less likely to pester guests, as they already do regardless of the shoo-ing.
Other animal welfare groups use donations, from Cyprus and donors worldwide, to be able to carry out sterilizations and vaccinations off their own backs. Luckily, stray shelters in Cyprus aren’t overthrown, since most cats live peacefully in the street. The shelters that do exist, are able to take in sick and injured strays to nurture them back to health, and sterilize them in the process.
Can you adopt a stray cat from Cyprus?
If you live in Cyprus, you’re in luck. There’s nothing to say that residents or foreigners can’t take any cat off the street and call it their own. Getting the animal vaccinated and sterilized should be your first port of call, but if you’re caring for an animal and doing any part to prevent the stray problem from worsening, no one’s going to stop you.
If you’re nervous about diseases or any other issues, you also have the option of adopting a cat from a shelter, of which there are a number on the island. This process should also be straightforward. You’ll probably have to fill out an application form and have a discussion with volunteers about whether or not your property is appropriate for a pet, which could result in a home visit, but a good shelter will encourage adoption and assist in the process.
If you want to adopt from abroad, that’s another story. Cat shelters should be just as helpful, but this process can take longer, and foreign adoptions often fall through, so don’t be discouraged if staff aren’t as enthusiastic about this idea. You can also adopt an animal from the streets to fly home with – the process is largely the same and you can still consult local charities for advice.
When it comes to adopting an animal from abroad, you’ll need to check your country’s entry requirements. The cat will probably need to be microchipped, with a pet passport, health certificate, and vaccinated against rabies with the documentation to prove it. They might also need a blood test.
The next task is getting the cat on a plane. This can be even harder than when traveling with a dog, mainly because cats don’t fare well in confined spaces and might not be so obliging, especially if their handler isn’t so familiar with them. You can fly with a pet for as little as £400, depending on where you’re going, but different airlines add different surcharges. Traveling with a cat or dog generally costs between £1,800 and £4,500, not including the original airfare.
If you want more information about overseas adoption, or want to find out about other ways for you to help with the stray cat problem in Cyprus, check out the charities below, working every day to help the island’s feral felines:
Tala Cats Sanctuary Paphos – This charity and non-kill shelter in Cyprus’ busy tourist town cares for 850 cats, spaying, neutering, and feeding all admissions, relying purely on donations.
Cyprus Pride House – Cyprus Pride House is a non-profit, family-run animal rescue center located near Limassol in the Troodos Mountains. British couple, June and Michael, run the center, rescuing abandoned, abused, and neglected cats and dogs with the aim of finding forever homes for them overseas in the UK and EU.
Malcolm Cat Protection Society – Also located near Limassol, the Malcolm Cat Protection Society works towards the nurture of stray cats in the city, offering them somewhere to eat and take shelter.
CyprusCats Cat Sanctuary – Run by Gabriella Bús, this sanctuary provides medical care to the stray cats and kittens of Cyprus, operating neutering and vaccination programs, and educating locals on animal welfare.
Where are the stray cats in Cyprus?
The two million stray cats in Cyprus are widespread across the island and you’ll find them everywhere from the busy city streets to the remote countryside towns. They usually seek out food and shelter, but you could still find a few lost strays in woodland or even on the beaches.
Do cats in Cyprus have rabies?
Stray animals always come with the risk of rabies, but the disease has never been reported in Cyprus and all animals entering the country must be vaccinated against it.
Can you touch the stray cats in Cyprus?
As fluffy and cute as they might sometimes appear, it’s not advised to pet any wild animal. Cats might not seem too scary, but they have very sharp claws and teeth, and their behavior can change very quickly. It’s never too hard for a cat to draw blood. Stray cats can also carry all manner of undetected diseases that could spread to you or your pet. Not to mention ticks and flees.