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20 stray cats taken into custody from Tsukiji Market before demolition

A stray cat called "Ku-chan," who is popular with tourists at the Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, walks around a shop run by Kimiko Kitamura, sitting in the back, on Sept. 19, 2018. (Mainichi/Akinori Miyamoto)

TOKYO -- Some 20 stray cats that had long lived at Tsukiji market have been taken into protective custody by an animal welfare organization as the facility is undergoing demolition work after closing on Oct. 6.

The rescued felines will eventually be put up for adoption after being transferred to a temporary animal shelter at Harumi Rinkai Park, which Chuo Ward Office plans to have completed by April 2019.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, more than 100 cats roamed inside the wholesale market about 10 years ago as an abundance of food made it a perfect home. The felines had decreased in number year by year due to being taken into custody and neutering. However, the remaining cats were at risk from the demolition work so the metropolitan government entrusted an animal welfare organization to launch a full-scale protection project.

People constantly abandoned cats at the market that never ran out of food including fish. Preparations for the project began about two years ago in secret as the public release of such information could have led to an increase in abandoned cats. There was even a case last year where a mother and her six kittens were discarded at the market.

While on patrol, metropolitan government officials kept records of the cats' features, locations of where they appeared and when, and if anybody was feeding them. They gave them names such as "Orange Tabby Kitty" and "Large White Fellow," and created a distribution map of cats in the Tsukiji area. Starting from this spring, organization members captured a total of some 20 cats by setting up traps according to the map, and by other means.

The last cat caught was found only three days before the closure, around 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 3. A staff worker showed their relief to have caught the cat which was nicknamed "Phantom" because it was rarely seen.

The Chuo Ward Office is to prepare two one-story temporary shelters with a total size of about 30 square meters at Harumi Rinkai Park. The animal welfare organization will seek adoption of the cats at the shelter. Maintenance for the facility, including construction of infrastructure like electricity, water and sewerage systems, is expected to cost about 56 million yen in total.

Meanwhile, a celebrity homeless cat will stay at the nearby Tsukiji Outer Market, where shops and restaurants remain in business. The male black cat called "Ku-chan" has no fear of humans, and is popular among tourists. Kimiko Kitamura, 80, who runs a delicacy food store in the area, smiled and said, "I want Ku-chan to continue being a mascot for Tsukiji Market."

(Japanese original by Masaki Takahashi, Tokyo Bureau)

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