Cats have long outnumbered humans in this Middle Eastern country

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Cats have long outnumbered humans in Cyprus.
  • Legends say they were brought to the Middle Eastern country to chase out snakes.
  • The oldest evidence of a domesticated cat dates back to 7,500 BC in a grave where a human and a cat were buried together.
Out past the Arabian Peninsula in the eastern Mediterranean Sea is an island country called Cyprus, which is home to around 1.5 million cats.

Just a stone’s throw from Lebanon, the 10th most densely populated country in the world, Cyprus has more cats than human inhabitants, who are estimated to be just over 1.2 million.

Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island, off the coast of Brazil, is infamous for being exclusively occupied by snakes and other animals with no human presence.

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However, this middle-eastern feline haven is co-inhabited by humans and cats who outnumber them.

The friendly felines are ubiquitous throughout Cyprus – they can be seen lounging by swimming pools, in bars and on the streets waiting for some treats.

A cat pictured in the yard of St Lazarus Church in Larnaca Cyprus
A cat pictured in the yard of St. Lazarus Church in Larnaca, Cyprus

Why does Cyprus have so many cats?

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There are many theories about how the country ended up with so many cats, but perhaps one of the two most widely accepted explanations is that Roman Empress Saint Helena, also known as Helena of Constantinople, shipped hundreds of cats from Egypt to Cyprus in AD 328 to chase out snakes from a monastery.
A contradictory legend says it was the ruler of ancient Egypt, Cleopatra, who brought the furry felines to exterminate snakes.
The earliest known archaeological evidence, however, of a domestic cat having been a house pet on the Mediterranean island goes all the way back to 7,500 BC, in a grave where a human and a cat were buried together over 9,500 years ago.
In 2007, a theory proposed that ancient cats were domesticated somewhere in the Middle East around the same era so farmers could employ their services in keeping pests under control.

A Cypriot cat may look at a king

Over the past few years, countless feeding stations have come up on the island where feral and stray cats know to go and have a meal. Many towns even have a resident ‘cat lady’ who feeds and looks after them.

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