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Meet Kesha, the Only Cat on an Island Where Cats Are Banned

The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is mostly known as one of the few places on Earth where people are forbidden from dying, but few know that this place also has a ban on cats, with one exception, a purring feline that’s technically a fox.

Cats weren’t always banned on Svalbard. It was only during the 1990s that Norwegian authorities enforced the ban, after it was decided that they were susceptible to rabies and echinococcosis (a type of tape worm) infections from foxes and rats, which in turn posed a big risk to the human population. Interestingly, rats are not indigenous to the northern archipelago, only arriving here relatively recently on board cargo ships, but being the resourceful creatures they are, they quickly adapted to the harsh conditions. Photos taken prior to the ban on cats show that felines were once popular on Spitsbergen and the other islands that make up Svalbard, but since then, only one ginger cat has been photographed on the archipelago. Her name is Kesha and she has a rather interesting story.

Kesha lives in Barentsburg, a Russian town on the island of Spitsbergen. In its heyday, during the time of the Soviet Union, Barentsburg was a thriving mining town with a population of over 1,000, but nowadays, only a few hundred people still live here and the place looks deserted. While the whole of Svalbard is under Norwegian authority, the Svalbard treaty of 1920 allowed signatory countries to establish mining operations on the archipelago, which is how settlements like Barentsburg came to be.

No one knows exactly when Kesha arrived in Barentsburg, just that she was brought by Russians, and registered as a fox, in order to bypass the ban on cats. Apart from the thick, ginger coat, Kesha doesn’t even resemble a fox, but Norwegian authorities never questioned her official species, and she has been allowed to live on Svalbard. According to Big Picture, she has a human friend who welcomes her into her apartment on particularly cold nights and loves to take care of her, but for the most part, Keshe loves her freedom.

Svalbard is a harsh place to live even for a cat. Kesha’s thick coat helps her withstand the cold, but the scars on her face and body hint that she has been a fight or two with the local fauna as well. She survived them, though, and, as far as we know, she still retains the unofficial title of the only cat on Svalbard.

And just in case you didn’t know about Svalbard’s famous ban on dying, people who are expected to die are flown to the mainland, and even those who do break the law and lose their life here are taken to the mainland to be buried. That’s because the permafrost prevents their bodies from decomposing and risk attracting hungry predators that dig them up.

 

While childbirth on Svalbard is not prohibited by law, pregnant women nearing their due date are also flown to the mainland, as the archipelago’s small hospital isn’t properly equipped for childbirth.

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