Most divers dive because they love the underwater life. Like an extreme form of stamp collecting divers will travel the world to see rare an exotic creatures. But there is something a bit special about the life you find at the surface of the Gili Islands. The place is littered with cats. And yes I don't mean catfish, I mean cats, as in Felis Catus.
The story goes that when people first settled the Gili Islands, cats came with them. The cats quickly became resident on the island and started to reproduce. Reproduction of cats on an island with no natural predator gets out of control quickly. Speaking of predators, an interesting fact about the Gili Islands is that there are no dogs on the islands, which makes it a pretty sweet place if you're a cat. This is where we have to dispel our first myth, as the cat and the dog are not, as some think, arch enemies. It's just that they don't get on. It all stems from back in their student days when the cat and the dog shared a flat in Brixton.
One night the cat and the dog hired a video, if memory serves correctly I believe it was Jaws 3. The cat had promised to return the video to the shop the next day, but being a cat he spent the day lazing on the couch and forgot. Now the result of this story is that having taken the video back late, the dog incurred a £1 fine. And the rest is history.
Gili Trawangan is a paradise for Divers and Cats alike, and they live together in harmony. Now the cats on the Gili Islands are a little bit "special". The cat community is mostly a closed one, the strong currents in the gulf of Lombok make it difficult for our feline friends to swim to other islands, and their lack of opposable thumbs make starting an outboard motor impossible. This has lead to a lack of genetic diversity and it's not uncommon to see a cat whose mother is also their half sister, cousin and potential future cat-wife. You can see this manifested in the very interesting tails our cats have.
Some cats have almost no tail, just a little lump, while others have half a tail, which might have a twist or curl in it. The second myth I have to dispel is that Cat Tail Soup is not served here. That's just something we tell the tourists to pass the surface interval between dives. The most uncommon sight on the islands is a cat with a full tail, but there are some around. Whatever type of tail they have (or don't have) our cats are extremely friendly. Growing up on an island with so many people around the cats tend to be well socialised. At Aquaddiction we have 4 Aquacats we regularly feed, but there are plenty of others who come by occasionally for a snack.
Cats of Gili
To keep the cat population under control we are very lucky to have an charity called Cats of Gili. This volunteer, community funded organisation helps our feline friends by regularly holding clinics. At the clinics they spay and neuter our cats to keep the population under control. They also supply us with medicine to help our cats out when they get worms or fleas. Part of this funding comes from the 50,000 IDR Gili Eco Tax which is collected by Dive Shops from new divers.
When you are visiting Gili Trawangan I'd recommend stopping by the Cats of Gili shop. They have a great selection of T-shirts, bags and other awesome cat related souvenirs. And don't forget to give some of the cats you see a stroke when you pass them on the street.