Police in southern Japan are building a case against an elderly man suspected of decimating the feline residents of "cat island" with poison.
Umashima island, about 10km off the port of Kokura, in northern Kyushu, became well known for being home to 30 humans and about 100 cats, nearly all strays.
The island, along with nearby Aoshima, which also has a high population of cats, is something of a tourist destination and is especially popular with Instagramers and other social media users.
The first reports that cats were dying of an unknown cause came in September 2017, and their numbers fell to less than 30 in the next two years.
The Fukuoka-based non-profit organisation Stopping Cruelty to Animals Testament (SCAT) opened an investigation after about 40 cats were found dead, and received numerous reports of fish with a strange blue tint being left in places around the island.
Cats that ate the food soon collapsed and foamed at the mouth before dying, the group found.
It shared its report with a second anti-animal cruelty group, Taisetsuna Nekotachi, which then passed it on to police in October last year.
The breakthrough came when a reporter from The Mainichi newspaper saw an elderly man putting out food and questioned him.
He reportedly said he was leaving the poisoned food "to exterminate crows" " but denied targeting the cats.
The man has not been named, but he is believed to be in his 80s and is a resident of the city of Kitakyushu.
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Police sent files on the case to prosecutors on June 5 and he is expected to be charged with violating a number of animal protection regulations.
"The revised animal protection law went into effect on June 1 with more severe punishments," SCAT director Sachie Yamazaki told The Mainichi.
"I hope the consequences of this case will lead to the prevention of more animal abuse."
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