Paws off our pets, fe­line fans tell coun­cil

Weekend Herald - - News - Tom Dil­lane

A feisty band of fe­line devo­tees will meet Auckland Coun­cil on Mon­day in a last-ditch ef­fort to keep do­mes­tic cats ex­empt from the city’s harsh new pest man­age­ment strat­egy.

The coun­cil meet­ing with the SPCA and sev­eral other cat rights ac­tivist groups is one of the fi­nal con­sul­ta­tions be­fore an ex­panded Auckland Re­gional Pest Man­age­ment Strat­egy (RPMS) is put into op­er­a­tion in March 2019.

The ac­tivists are par­tic­u­larly dis­traught at the pro­posal, first laid out in Novem­ber 2017, that cats rounded up in re­gional Auckland sites of “eco­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance” can be “eu­thanised” if found with­out a mi­crochip.

NZ Cat Foun­da­tion pres­i­dent Anne Bat­ley-Bur­ton says the strat­egy is a risk to all do­mes­tic pet cats, and there are ul­te­rior mo­tives.

“Re­al­is­ti­cally, if this is all about pro­tect­ing wildlife, hav­ing a chip or not does not al­ter a cat’s hunt­ing abil­ity, so what is it re­ally all about?

“It’s re­ally about them want­ing to cull the strays out there through a lack of owner re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Bat­leyBur­ton says.

“It’s not the cat’s fault they’ve got lost. Per­haps they’ve moved house and the cat’s gone back to where it came [from].

“Even if the coun­cils them­selves are not run­ning around try­ing to trap a whole lot of cats, you’ve got th­ese fa­nat­i­cal con­ser­va­tion­ists who want to kill ev­ery cat in sight, out in force seiz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We can’t sud­denly go slaugh­ter­ing the world’s most-loved com­pan­ion an­i­mal purely be­cause it doesn’t have a mi­crochip, ” Bat­leyBur­ton says.

How­ever, Auckland Coun­cil biose­cu­rity prin­ci­pal ad­viser Dr Imo­gen Bas­sett de­nies the new strat­egy will be en­forced in subur­ban re­serves.

“To re­ally re­it­er­ate, although it is a re­gional pest man­age­ment plan, it’s about pro­tect­ing our high bio­di­ver­sity value places,” Bas­sett says.

“We’re not talk­ing about round­ing up cats in ur­ban ar­eas. This is about manag­ing cats in a small num­ber of high eco­log­i­cal value sites where we’ve got a par­tic­u­lar threat­ened shore­bird breed­ing pop­u­la­tion — that sort of thing.

“Mi­crochip­ping was a way we de­ter­mined which cats were re­spon­si­bly owned at those sites.”

De­spite this as­sur­ance, SPCA chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drea Mid­gen says the map­ping of the “eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive” ar­eas across Auckland is far too broad.

“The chal­lenge we have at the mo­ment with the RPMS is they’ve ba­si­cally

You’ve got th­ese fa­nat­i­cal con­ser­va­tion­ists who want to kill ev­ery cat in sight, out in force seiz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Anne Bat­ley-Bur­ton

high­lighted most of Auckland which is not go­ing to work,” Mid­gen says.

“There’s ob­vi­ously a whole lot of cats in sub­ur­bia Auckland not do­ing a se­ri­ous amount of dam­age be­cause they’re well fed and we don’t have a lot of na­tive birds.”

Mid­gen also says the RPMS op­er­a­tional im­ple­men­ta­tion date of March 2019 was too hasty.

“They have to put some long-term plan in to start mi­crochip­ping the cats, and in a pe­riod of 10 years, once all the cats have been iden­ti­fied, they can start erad­i­cat­ing, be­cause they will know they’re not owned,” Mid­gen says.

“We’re a nation of cat lovers and we’ve al­lowed them to roam free, un­like Aus­tralia, where they’re used to con­tain­ing cats in their prop­er­ties be­cause of preda­tors.

“That’s not our cul­ture so we need to give peo­ple time to learn to man­age that.”

But Bas­sett said threat­ened na­tive Auckland species could not wait a decade. “That’s a re­ally long time for some of our na­tive species; we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have that long.”

The re­li­a­bil­ity of some mi­crochips on the mar­ket has also been ques­tioned by an­i­mal ad­vo­cates; the Vir­bac brand mi­crochip has re­peat­edly been found faulty.

Auckland Coun­cil ac­cepted this, but said all pet own­ers should con­sult with vets on re­li­able brands.

Bas­sett said there had been no time-frame pro­posed about how long af­ter a stray cat was rounded up in a sen­si­tive area it could be eu­thanised.

The meet­ing at Auckland Coun­cil on Septem­ber 17 will be chaired by coun­cil­lors Penny Hulse and Cathy Casey along with coun­cil biose­cu­rity staff. Pub­lic sub­mis­sions on the new pest man­age­ment strat­egy closed on March 28.

Auckland Coun­cil was keen to stress the strat­egy en­com­passes more than 400 pests, not just cats.

Bas­sett said cats have con­trib­uted to the local or com­plete ex­tinc­tion of nine species of na­tive NZ birds.

Photo / Michael Craig

Anne Bat­leyBur­ton says the wildlife pro­tec­tion an­gle is a cover story for want­ing to cull strays.

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