Secret Russian Army ... of Cats!

For years, Russia's Hermitage museum has employed a secret army to protect over three million works of art dating back to Peter the Great.

Recently, the identity of this secret force has come to light: cats!

Although no longer allowed to roam freely through the galleries, around 60 felines earn a living in the basement of the huge former Tsarist palace.

Maria Khaltunen, Hermitage State Museum: "They (cats) work here. They execute, so-called, preventive activities so that rats and mice will stay away or are kept at a minimum. All the museum visitors can see them in the summer. Generally they walk on the square and on the embankment, and also they come out into the big yard. But these (cats) are only those who like to deal with people. Others who prefer living in their community stay in basement."

The priceless treasures of the museum are under the watchful eye of these cats. These four-footed employees are always on guard against rats and mice that can damage the Hermitage collection. They work in the labyrinths of the basement, hunting by day and night.

Cats have been guarding the museum for the last 200 years since the Tsarist period. They first appeared during the reign of Peter the Great's daughter, Empress Elizabeth. Fed up with hundreds of rodents running through the palace Elizabeth signed a decree ordering the best rat and mice-catching cats to be sent to Her Majesty's court.

Link [Flash video]

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I'd heard that the combined saliva, urine and feces of hundreds of cats over a period of 200 years does wonders for the patina of an oil painting.

Gotta hand it to those Russkis. Their space station stayed up longer than ours, but they can't invent a mousetrap.
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