A security guard opens a side
gate, letting us into the park
beyond the Fifth Ring Road, just
before dusk. ‘The cats don’t come
out if there are people around,’ says
Li Qingyan, laden with bags of food
and a tanker of water, 'It’s better to
wait till after dark.'
Right on cue, Mr Li’s first clients
appear from within the artificial
miniature mountains inside the
entrance. They look like huge tigers
against the skewed scale. 'Hello
Pudding!' calls Mr Li.
Pudding (Buding) and Qiuqiu are
our first customers and we start
preparing their dinner. 'The cats are
territorial, so we’ll be feeding them
in their own territories through the
park,' explains M r Li. Pudding and
Qiuqiu are pretty unfazed by me
and also by Baixiong (White Bear),
the stocky white dog Mr Li and his
wife bring to the park each day. 'We
rescued Baixiong from the park
so he wouldn’t get eaten… There
aren’t many dogs here now in spring
because people come to the park in
winter to catch them for food. And the
tamer the… more unfortunate.'
Mr Li has been coming here every
day for nearly 11 years now. As we get
the food out I ask whether he’s been
given a nickname. 'Well, they call me
the Cat King because I’ve also got 30
disabled cats at home from the park.' So I’m among cat royalty. The cats have been 'thrown away' here over
the years. He fed one little cat called
Erbao for seven years before he
stopped showing up last year.
The Cat King mixes biscuits with
a bit of tinned meat in a plastic tub,
then hammers the metal spoon
through the food to create a biscuity
clatter, which reaches the ears of
other cats, who come padding over.
We spoon the mix into separate piles
for them and I notice these patches
of ground are stained; the cats eat at
the same spots every night.
We move on to the next feeding
point in the trees. Cat King calls out
the names of the cats who manage
this part of the park. Magpies arrive,
ready for the leftovers, then cats
appear from behind trees and over
Why are the tips of their
ears neatly snipped
off? 'Male left, female
right,' the Cat King
points out. They have
ear snip when they
get their gender specific other snip.
An organisation called
Lucky Cats (Xingyun Tu
Mao, 幸运土猫) comes to the
park, rounds up un-neutered cats
and takes them for their operations.
They also sort the tamer ones to see
if they can re-home them; the wilder
ones are returned to the park.
The Cat King has names for each
of the roughly 70 cats he feeds.
He’s concerned that there is no sign
of Little Yellow, and keeps calling
throughout the park.
Night falls as we head up a hill to
where Ropeway and pals hang out.
The Cat King dispenses a good few
kilos of food per day. He’s not worked out how much he’s spent, but as we
walk we go through the costs, and
even though he now buys the food
wholesale, he’s getting through at
least 50RMB a day on the park cats
and 70RMB on his in-house rescue
centre. 'That’s not big money. When
they’re ill, that’s as expensive as you
can’t even imagine.'
As well as cleaning up the
leftovers and dishing out the new
food, I change the water in the bowls
hidden under tables, between the
legs of stone lions and behind trees.
Further up the mountain, finding
our way with torchlight, we reach the
foot of the pagoda that supposedly
houses one of Buddha’s teeth.
Monks in the temple are ringing their
bell and chanting as the Cat King and
I ring the dinner bell spoon. A
flock of felines emerge from
the darkness for their own
'There should be
another four cats here,’
the Cat King ponders.
‘Usually around a
quarter don’t show up
on any given day.'
His wife swipes through
photos of the disabled cats
at home, including 17-year-old
Saddam, who has a lustrous black
moustache. 'It’s so much effort
that we now only have two meals a
day, what with the cats everywhere.
And we have to cook those outside,' says the Cat King. 'These cats are
like an addiction.'
After half-a-dozen feeding stops
the Cat King drops us off at a path
that will take us back to the entrance.
He heads back into the pitch black
forest towards the remaining feeding
places, calling as he goes. A pointed-ear
head pops up in his torchlight.