Preda­tor-free NZ should be the aim

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Dr Gareth Mor­gan and his web­site cam­paign to rid New Zealand of cats called ‘‘Cats to Go’’ has cre­ated the ex­pected de­bate on the topic of cats be­ing killers of na­tive wildlife.

The cam­paign ti­tle pre­dictably aims to cause con­tro­versy and in turn raise aware­ness on a topic that does need to be ad­dressed. For this it needs to be ap­plauded as it cer­tainly has done that.

I have looked at the web­site and agree with most of what Dr Mor­gan ad­vo­cates, much of it be­ing the same as I said in an ar­ti­cle in this publi­ca­tion over a year ago. We know cats are very ef­fi­cient killers of all small wildlife. They are in­dis­crim­i­nate and do it for sport. How­ever, to blame a whole loss of na­tive wildlife on cats is naive and short-sighted.

There are about 1.4 mil­lion domestic cats in New Zealand. The num­ber of feral cats does not seem to be ex­actly known but is thought to be some­where be­tween 200,000 and 500,000. This is very much fewer than the es­ti­mated 66 mil­lion pos­sums that de­stroy thou­sands of hectares of na­tive bush habi­tat ev­ery year. Then there are all the other preda­tors: Stoats, weasels, fer­rets and rats.

The worst of­fender in the killing of na­tive wildlife is, of course, hu­mans. Although we do not hunt na­tive birds di­rectly (though the moa and hasst ea­gle are ex­tinct be­cause of hu­man hunt­ing), we man­age to re­duce na­tive an­i­mal pop­u­la­tion in three other ways:

1. We de­stroy their habi­tat by re­plac­ing na­tive bush with farm­land and pine plan­ta­tions.

2. We in­tro­duced all of the above killers, in­clud­ing cats to con­trol the rab­bits man in­tro­duced, as well as the non-na­tive birds who com­pete for habi­tat and food with na­tives.

3. Hu­mans use pes­ti­cides and in­sec­ti­cides that re­duce foods for many birds, na­tive and in­tro­duced.

While it is easy to tar­get the domestic cat we need to not only look at con­trol­ling their im­pact but look at the big­ger pic­ture and tar­get all preda­tors and pos­sums.

Re­duc­ing only cats al­lows an­other species op­por­tu­ni­ties, as was found in the Macken­zie Basin when cats, fer­rets and hedge­hogs were tar­geted to help black­fronted tern num­bers. They were sim­ply re­placed by pos­sums and rats eat­ing them.

Elim­i­nat­ing pos­sums and rats in an ur­ban area within a few years has a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on bird pop­u­la­tions, as ex­pe­ri­enced in Tawa and Whitby lo­cally. On my morn­ing walks I can see tui, kereru, wax-eyes and fan­tails in grow­ing num­bers with­out any change in cat de­mo­graph­ics. We there­fore need a Preda­tor Free New Zealand, not sim­ply a Cat Free New Zealand.

The cats that need to be tar­geted are the feral and stray. This is a prob­lem as it’s dif­fi­cult to know which cats are owned and which are feral or stray. Un­til all owned, do­mes­ti­cated cats are mi­cro- chipped this will not be pos­si­ble.

For that to hap­pen government, cen­tral or lo­cal, needs to make it so, as has been done in many places in Aus­tralia, also to pro­tect their unique na­tive wildlife fauna.

The New Zealand Ve­teri­nary As­so­ci­a­tion has ad­vo­cated the fol­low­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties:

1. A com­mit­ment to ‘‘ whole of life’’ care. This means not dump­ing un­wanted pets.

2. De­sex­ing

to

pre­vent un­wanted lit­ters and re­duc­ing cat pop­u­la­tions which are cur­rently ex­ces­sive.

3. Pro­vid­ing ap­pro­pri­ate food, shel­ter and health care.

4. Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion prefer­ably by mi­crochip.

5. Un­der­stand­ing, ac­cept­ing and fol­low­ing lo­cal by­laws.

In ad­di­tion to this, Gareth Mor­gan’s web­site rec­om­mends keep­ing cats in­doors ( es­pe­cially at night), af­fix­ing bells to col­lars (this can help although cats hunt by stealth), cat reg­is­tra­tion (like that re­quired for dogs), and of course not re­plac­ing your cat when it dies.

I agree with all the above ex­cept for the last one. But then I am a vet­eri­nar­ian so ob­vi­ously bi­ased. Just as Dr Mor­gan is not a lover of cats and there­fore happy to have a cat-free New Zealand.

I think we can have both. Cats as fam­ily pets and a coun­try with as many birds as the re­main­ing bush will tol­er­ate.

We need to do many things to­gether to achieve this. Hard but cer­tainly pos­si­ble. To look at all the sides con­sider go­ing to this site ( http:// www. sci­ence­me­dia cen­tre. co. nz/ 2013/ 01/ 23/ cat­sim­pact-on-na­tive-wildlife-ex­pert­sre­spond/) as well as the ‘‘Cats to Go’’ web­site.

Dr Ian Schraa is an ex­pe­ri­enced vet­eri­nar­ian and the owner of Rap­paw Ve­teri­nary Care.

Food for thought: Do cats de­serve their bad rap? Or should we look at our­selves first?

With Dr Ian Schraa

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