One of the most notorious prisons that houses humans who have done evil things is Pollsmoor Prison in South Africa, which once housed Nelson Mandela. Things have changed significantly since then, and while the prison is home to murderers, rapists, and gang members, it is also home to a unique feral cat colony. This clowder has helped many of the humans in the prison learn valuable life lessons.
The first prison where Mandela was held was called Robben Island. When the prison was initially opened, the humans in charge of it took some cats to the island to do what we felines always do — keep down the rat population. The prison closed in the 1980s, and was designated a wildlife area. Over the decades that the prison was open, the feline population exploded, and there were charges that the felines were killing the wildlife on the island. An order went out that all the cats were to be killed.
One local human and the SPCA objected to the plan, and they were given six weeks to capture all the cats they could and relocate them. They were able to capture 24 cats, but only 15 of them were healthy enough to be released.
And then just like Mandela, these cats made the journey from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison. One of the reasons was that it has a large farming area, and the feral cats would be good at keeping the rodent population from eating the crops.
When the human with the Robben Island cats arrived at Pollsmoor for the first time, she was amazed. There were cats everywhere. Some of the prisoners allowed the felines to crawl into their cells, and shared their food with the hungry cats. That is when she decided she would not only have to monitor the Robben Island cats, but implement a TNR program.
These felines are safe, because the warden and his staff look out for them. And they have a surprising source of protection. The prisoners themselves look after the cats, too. One prisoner said of his cat who he hadn’t seen for a while, “she’s totally stolen my heart and changed my life around.” The warden, after hearing about the missing cat, commissioned a search to find her. And this prisoner showed an unknown talent. He started drawing his cat, and was given art supplies. Since then, some of his artwork has been shown.
Another prisoner who is a few months away from being released after a long sentence, said of his cat, “she has taught me what it means to be considerate of others. Who knew I would learn life lessons from a cat?”
Remember, this all started just to give some feral cats a place to live. What it has developed into is a very special program that helps felines and humans alike. If you would like to learn more about the program, please visit The Emma Animal Rescue Society.