One of the world’s greatest museums has a special permanent collection that receives constant care and attention though it is never officially on display. It’s a gaggle of cats—70 to be precise—first invited by the Russian Queen Elizabeth Petrovna in the 18th century to murder mice in her Saint Petersburg castle.
Since then, the royal grounds have become the Hermitage Museum, and though Russia no longer has queens, cats still reign supreme, both at the museum and in the people’s hearts. A recent study of cat ownership in 52 countries found that Russians love cats more than anyone on the planet.
In February, Dalia Research asked more than 43,000 people worldwide whether they had felines. Russians were by far the most enthusiastic cat fans, the only nation where more than half of respondents had cats, 59% of people surveyed said they keep a feline friend at home.
Just under half of Ukrainians claimed kitties. Americans rank third at 43%. Meanwhile 40% of people in Chile, Italy, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates own cats. Notably, Malaysians were most likely to own multiple cats, 17% of respondents said they have three or more. In Russia, only 8% house more than two.
Felines colonized the planet, they traveled with sailors and disembarked at ports all over the world. But it seems no one country rivals Russia when it comes to cat-love. Perhaps the affection is a historical remnant, left behind by ousted royals. It is said that the pets of the children of Nicholas II—Russia’s last emperor—were allowed to sharpen their claws on imperial tapestries. The family was killed in 1918. The cats survived.