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For the Birds

Posted on 8/17/2021 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Svalbard’s ban on cats is meant to protect the bustling colonies of nesting birds like these thick-billed murres.

Question: In the Arctic’s Svalbard Archipelago, a law banning what is meant to protect local birds and wildlife?

Answer: Cats

The Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is a dream location for adventurers, animal enthusiasts, and birdwatchers alike. Much of the wildlife here seems to come right from the pages of myths and legends—like the reindeer, narwhals, puffins, and more that call it home. Extraordinary arctic birds also fill the cluster of islands with species like kittiwakes, little auks, and even snowy owls.

In order to protect the precious ecological balance between birds and the other animals, Svalbard has adopted a strange rule: cats are strictly forbidden.

No cats—whether indoor or outdoor—are permitted to live in Spitsbergen (the only island of Svalbard where humans live). It’s believed that felines could do great damage to Svalbard’s circle of life if not kept in check. Most pets, in general, are impossible to bring except for some caged birds, rabbits, and working dogs.

However, there is one exception to the rule. An orange cat by the name of Kesha was snuck into Spitsbergen by his Russian owners under false paperwork. The owners claimed on their documents that he was not a cat but a fox. Despite being discovered by authorities, somehow he was able to stick around and has since become a local celebrity among Spitsbergen’s 3,000 residents. Some even travel from far and wide to give him a pet and lovingly refer to him as the Ginger Arctic Fox.

Most residents on the isolated island need not worry about the ban on cats because the local fauna is so immense. From polar bears to beluga whales, there is always something to see and discover on the top of the world.

A Few More Arctic Animal Fun Facts:

  • The Bearded Seal is the largest seal species in the Arctic, aptly named for its long whiskers. Males also carry a booming voice that can be heard up to 12 miles away.

  • Narwhals are famous for their large horn, but this is actually a massive tooth. The narwhal’s tusk can grow up to 10 feet in length and contains about 10 million nerve endings. Scientists hypothesize that when two narwhals rub their tusks together they are communicating important information.

  • Arctic foxes have some of the warmest pelts of all Arctic animals, helping them to conserve heat in frigid temperatures. In the summer months, they grow a brown or grey coat, while in the winter, they grow a thick white coat.

  • Though polar bears appear to have white fur, their fur is pigment-free and transparent. The fur merely reflects the largely white surroundings of the Arctic while underneath the fur, their skin is black.

  • In the summer, Arctic Terns travel up to 25,000 miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to Antarctica for the summer—one of the longest migrations of all birds on Earth.

  • Walruses use their whiskers to detect shellfish all the way down to the ocean floor. They can also eat up to 4,000 clams in one sitting.

Voyage into the natural wonderland of the Arctic during New! Arctic Expedition: Untamed Norway & Svalbard Small Ship Adventure.

Related Video:

Svalbard
Get a bird's-eye view of coastlines sheltered by snowcapped mountains, and cruise through the icy waters of the Svalbard archipelago.
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