Japan's cat island finds purr-fect solution to food crisis

More than 140 cats occupy the tiny island of Aoshima in southern Japan (AFP Photo/Kazuyuki Ono) (Kazuyuki Ono/AFP)

Tokyo (AFP) - An army of cats ruling a remote Japanese island are licking their whiskers after a plea for food aid triggered a flood of donations from across the country.

More than 140 cats occupy the tiny island of Aoshima in southern Japan -- outnumbering humans by eight to one -- but when the feral felines recently ran out of cat food, a cry for help led to an extraordinary response.

"Food began pouring in from all over Japan," Kazuyuki Ono, 59, whose tweet raised the alarm, told AFP on Friday.

"There's so much of it now we can't store it," he added.

"We're asking people to stop sending donations. But the cats couldn't be happier."

Fittingly, hundreds of boxes of cat food arrived at Aoshima dock, a 30-minute boat ride from the mainland, in time for February 22 -- officially Cat Day in Japan.

"The food started arriving right at that time," said Ono.

"In spring and summer, tourists bring food to feed the cats but when it gets cold, the sea is rough and nobody comes. Sometimes boats can't cross in the rough seas. It's a mysterious little island."

Aoshima, known also as Cat Island, was once home to 1,000 people but today only 16 remain, mostly pensioners.

But the cats, originally brought to the island to kill the mice that infested fishermen's boats, rule the roost and visitors flock from across Asia and even Europe to see the fluffy creatures.

"It's a cat paradise here," said Ono, who took to Twitter at the request of Naoko Kamimoto, president of the Aoshima Cat Protection Society, after she found that the cupboard was bare.

"There are no crows, no dogs, no bikes, no cars," Ono said.

"They love nothing more than to just lie about in the street sunning themselves all day. Now their bellies are full, they're purring happily."