Japan’s Cat Island and other Places Dominated by Animals

For when you’re tired of all the humans.  
Wild Ponies Assateague Island
Assateague Island is home to wild ponies. Photo: Bonnie Gruenberg/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

In a world of cities packed like sardines in a tin, it’s good to know that we haven’t encroached on every available space (yet). These islands are over-run by animals instead. Some of their tales of origin are debatable, but they still draw in hordes of human admirers. There’s a dogs-not-allowed policy, a behavioural research centre, and possible treasure on our list of the most interesting animal islands in the world.

Cat Island, Japan

If cats were taking over the world, this island is probably where their headquarters would be. Tashirojima is an island off the coast of Ishinomaki in Japan that has a larger cat population than it has humans. The few humans who still call the island home are the ones who look after the cats. The feline population was apparently originally welcomed to keep the mice away from the island’s silkworm farms. Later, the fishermen – fishing is one of the island’s main industries – saw the cats as bringers of good luck, and cared for them. There’s a cat shrine at the centre of the island and cat-shaped cottages. That being said, while the island does attract its fair share of cat-loving travellers (the cats are most welcoming), there aren’t any facilities like restaurants and public restrooms. Don’t let the dogs out though, because they’re not allowed here. Watch the cats wander around on their island below.

Getting there The Japanese island of Tashirojima or Cat Island is connected to the mainland city of Ishinomaki by daily ferries. Trains from Tokyo to Ishinomaki take three-four hours, but aren’t as frequent as those from the city of Sendai, which is also the closest airport. Details here.

Rabbit Island, Japan

Between 1929 and 1945, Okunoshima was home to a secret chemical gas factory. Today, the island located in the Inland Sea of Japan is known for being overrun by feral rabbits. The origin of these rabbits is contested. Some say that today’s rabbits are related to the batch brought to the island to test the poisonous gas – but the factory’s rabbits were reportedly all killed when production ceased.

Another theory traces the inhabitants to eight rabbits released on the island by schoolchildren in 1971. While humans are most welcome here, cats and dogs aren’t. But beware – one woman was chased by the furry creatures (although she doesn’t seem to look too perturbed). Watch it here:

Getting there The Japanese island of Okunoshima is a 15-minute ferry ride from the city of Takehara in Hiroshima Prefecture. Takehara is about three hours by train from Osaka. Details here.

Assateague Island, USA

Assateague Island USA Ponies

These ponies are said to be the descendants of shipwreck survivors from the 18th century. Photo: Tramod/Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

This barrier island (formally called Assateague Island National Seashore), shared by the states of Maryland and Virginia, is home to herds of wild ponies. The ponies survive on the island’s dune and marsh grasses, and water from freshwater ponds. Legend has it that the ponies are the progeny of those that were shipwrecked on the island in the 18th century. There have even been efforts to excavate the island for possible treasure from the shipwreck. Visitors can go on cruises and kayaking to see the ponies.

Getting there The Assateague Island National Seashore is a nature reserve accessible from the town of Berlin in the state of Maryland and from the town of Chincoteague in the state of Virginia. Details here.

Monkey Island, Puerto Rico

Monkey Island Puerto Rico

Rhesus macaque monkeys thrive on the Puerto Rican island of Cayo Santiago. Photo: Geoff Gallice/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Cayo Santiago, an island off the coast of Puerto Rico, serves as the Caribbean Primate Research Centre for the University of Puerto Rico. In 1938, hundreds of rhesus macaques were taken from India to Cayo Santiago for behavioural observation studies. Today, their descendants inhabit the island. Visitors can’t get up close to the primates – only researchers are allowed on the island – but they can take a boat ride to view the monkeys. Watch out though, they bite.

Getting there The island of Cayo Santiago is a three-hour boat ride from the Puerto Rican village of Playa Naguabo. Playa Naguabo is an hour away from the capital city of San Juan by road. Boats like La Paseodora make daily trips between the island and Playa Naguabo.

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    Fabiola Monteiro is Features Writer on National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She loves beaches, blue skies, and baking, and is most centred while trying a new cake recipe. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro.

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