Years ago, the park had a major rat problem. No one likes to see rats in public places, and Miraflores in particular is a commercial and touristic district that should be rat-free.
by Charlotte Lawrence
A few blocks away from Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, Lima, I spotted one curled up under a café table. A block from the park, there were a few perched in trees or sprawled out in the middle of the sidewalk, unperturbed by the people streaming around, over, and under them. “Wow, there are lots of these guys around here!” I thought to myself. I had no idea. When I got to Kennedy park, dozens of cats rested in little clusters together, hunted around in the flowers, dozed on statues, or politely (some not so politely) solicited pats and food.
At certain times of the day, the cats will be more clustered than usual. You will find them surrounding two or three volunteers, often elderly Peruvians who bring food and water to feed the cats. Their tortoiseshell, tabby, calico, white and black bodies lap water or nibble cat food out of small plastic containers. Some of the more adventurous cats try to dig around in the volunteers’ bags. The littlest kittens can barely reach their heads into the food bowls, but once they’re successful getting food they never seem to want to stop eating.
Tourists and locals cluster around, holding and petting the kittens. I wasn’t sure whether I should pet them at first, but once I saw Limeños petting the cats, I decided it would be ok as long as I washed my hands afterwards. They’re soft, but dirty. One of the volunteers starts up a conversation, asking where we were from. After a little small talk, we asked about his role. He says he’s a volunteer, and that volunteers organized by the district of Miraflores come daily to feed and water the cats. There are a dozen or so volunteers, he says.
I was dying to know how Parque Kennedy came to resemble a free, outdoor, cat café. The volunteer was friendly and talkative, so I asked him. He was clearly thrilled to tell us his story. Years ago, the park had a major rat problem. No one likes to see rats in public places, and Miraflores in particular is a commercial and touristic district that should be rat-free. The city put out rat traps, but the rat population did not change. Then, the city put out rat poison. Again, nothing changed, except that several local dogs ate the poison and were killed. In a city council meeting, the volunteer narrates, a councilwoman suggested introducing cats to the park. She had an extra cat, or a stray. The idea was taken up, several cats were brought to Parque Kennedy, and every year the cats have kittens. Needless to say, there is no longer a rat problem.
The cats are adorable. Most likely a bit underfed, they’re all very small, and range from young to old, long and short haired. None of them seem to bite or hiss, and some even like human company. Walking around the park one afternoon, I saw a sad man sitting on the curb with his head between his knees. Two little cats walked up to him and sat next to his feet looking up at him, almost as though they wanted him to feel better. I thought to myself, the cats are doing a lot more for the city than keeping the rats away.