The Hermitage cats (Russian: Эрмитажные коты) are a group of cats residing in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The museum has a press secretary dedicated to the cats, and three people act as caretakers. The cats live in the museum's basement, and they also appear on the embankment and on the square during the summer. In previous eras they roamed throughout the museum galleries.
In 2010, Maria Khaltunen (also "Khaltunin" or "Haltunen"), who directs the museum's cat programme, stated that there were 60 cats on the museum grounds, even though the staff has a joke that officially the museum is only supposed to have 50 cats. Irina Popovets, who became the head of the cat department, stated that the cats were "as well-known as our collections".
In May 2013, the count had grown to 74 cats, of both sexes (but neutered), according to Haltunen. There are kitchens for preparing their food ("they all have different preferences"), and even a small hospital.
The cats were present in the museum, originally a palace, since the 18th century; in 1745, Elizabeth of Russia ordered cats to be placed in the palace in order to control the mice. James Rodgers of the BBC stated that the belief is that the cats originated from Kazan, a city known for having cats good at catching mice. The cats remained in St. Petersburg except during World War II, when the existing cat population was killed. A new group of cats replaced the previous cats since the rat population had increased.
In 2011, the museum began a "Catfest", a celebration of its cat population. "Catfest" has included cat painting contests and scavenger hunts for children.
Beginning in 2015, because of the number of visiting tourists, a website has been set up by the museum for people who may be interested in adopting a cat. “It is an honor to adopt a Hermitage cat,” one potential cat owner was told.
Other cats kept to deter mice in public buildings include:
- Canadian Parliamentary Cats
- Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, United Kingdom
- Tibs the Great kept by the Royal Mail in the UK.
- Rodgers, James. "Hermitage palace is cat's whiskers" (Archive). BBC. Friday 5 October 2007. Retrieved on 2 July 2015.
- Cole, Teresa Levonian. "St Petersburg: the cats of the Hermitage" (Archive). The Telegraph. 23 May 2013. Retrieved on 2 July 2015.
- "Cat "Army" Guards Treasures" (Archive). National Geographic. June 12, 2009. Retrieved on July 2, 2015.
- Marquardt, Alexander. "St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum Home to Masters...and Cats" (Archive). ABC News. July 30, 2010. Retrieved on July 2, 2015.
- "The nine lives of Russia’s Hermitage Museum cats." Agence France-Presse at Hurriyet Daily News. November 18, 2015. Retrieved on July 18, 2016.
- McGrane, Sally. "Russia’s Museum Cats" (Archive). The New Yorker. September 25, 2012. Retrieved on July 2, 2015.
- "Russia's Hermitage Museum Is Filled With Cats". The Daily Observer. 17 November 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
- Hermitage Cats (in Russian)