Cats in New Zealand

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The Stephens Island Wren became extinct within two years of the introduction of cats on to Stephens Island.
(An illustration from Walter Lawry Buller's A History of the Birds of New Zealand published in 1905.)

Cats are a popular pet in New Zealand. Cat ownership is occasionally raised as a controversial conservation issue due to the predation of endangered species such as birds and lizards by feral cats.

Domesticated cats[edit]

The domestic cat (Felis catus) was introduced into New Zealand by European settlers in the mid 19th century. As of 2011, there are an estimated 1.419 million domestic cats in New Zealand, with almost half of all households owning at least one and an average of 1.8 cats per household.[1]

Because of the effects of predation on New Zealand wildlife, domestic cat ownership is sometimes a contentious issue. Since the 1990s, cat-free subdivisions have occasionally been established to prevent predation occurring within nearby natural areas by domestic cats. In 1996 a cat-free subdivision was established at Waihi Beach, a landmark decision by the Western Bay of Plenty District Council. It was sought by Forest and Bird and the Department of Conservation to protect wildlife in a nearby salt marsh.[2]

In 2012 the operators of the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary called for cat owners not to replace their pet when they die as a means of reducing the cat population.[3] In 2013, Gareth Morgan, an economist and philanthropist, caused an international furore when he called for cats to be wiped out. He launched the "Cats To Go" website to support the stance.[4] It is suggested that owners could euthanase their cats but it is not seen as necessary.[5] Some conservationists supported the stance taken by Morgan.[6]

Even though cats control rodents which also prey on native wildlife, and thus have a protective role, the precautionary principle is recommended in certain cases such as adjacent to natural areas and in outer suburbs of cities.[7]

A study done on patients in Auckland with acute toxoplasmosis, an infectious disease carried by cats and transmitted to humans via cat faeces, is now thought to be more debilitating than initially realised. The patients had a high rate of fatigue, headaches, and had a difficulty with concentration.[8][9]

Feral cats[edit]

Cat eradication on outlying islands[10]
Island Date
completed
Notes
Cuvier Island 1964
Herekopare 1970
Kapiti Island 1934 Now a nature reserve
Little Barrier Island 1980 Now a nature reserve
Motuihe 1978–1979
Stephens Island 1925 Cats caused the extinction of an endemic bird
Tiritiri Matangi Island 1970s Now an open sanctuary

Apart from three bat species New Zealand did not have any land-based mammals until settlement by Māori and European people. As a consequence birds and even insects took over the ecological niche normally filled by mammals. The introduced mammals, including cats, became invasive species that severely affected the native wildlife.

It is estimated that feral cats have been responsible for the extinction of six endemic bird species and over 70 localised subspecies, as well as depleting the populations of bird and lizard species.[11] The extinction of the Stephens Island Wren is a case of bird extinction due to predation by cats. The extinction of the birds is often blamed on the lighthouse keeper's cat alone but cats had become established in 1894 when a single pregnant female landed on the island so it is likely that it was a result of the whole cat population.[12]

Cats are problematic on other islands. It was speculated that cats would have caused the extinction of kakapo on Stewart Island / Rakiura had the birds not been moved to other islands. The introduction of cats on to Mangere, Herekopare and Raoul Islands caused localised extinctions of bird species. After cats were eradicated from Little Barrier Island the local bird populations increased, and saddlebacks were successfully reintroduced.

Feral cats are the principal threat to the critically endangered Black Stilt[13] and as of February 2010 only 85 birds remain, largely in the Mackenzie Basin. After the illegal introduction of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RCD) into New Zealand rabbit numbers were reduced dramatically for a period of time. When the rabbit numbers in the Mackenzie Basin were low, feral cats switched from preying on rabbits to preying on native fauna, including the Black Stilt. A trapping programme for cats and other predators that threatened the Black Stilt population was instigated by the Department of Conservation.[14]

The impact of feral cats on species other than birds is not as well documented[13] although in 2010 the Department of Conservation discovered that a feral cat was responsible for killing over 100 endangered short-tailed bats over a seven-day period in a forested area on the southern slope of Mount Ruapehu.[15]

Phantom big cat sightings[edit]

Since the late 1990s, big cat sightings (phantom cats) have been reported in widely separated parts of New Zealand, in both the North and South Islands.[16] There have been several unverified panther sightings in Mid-Canterbury near Ashburton and in the nearby foothills of the Southern Alps,[17][18][19] but searches conducted there in 2003 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry found no corroborating physical evidence.[16]

Policy[edit]

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 and the Animal Welfare (Companion Cats) Code of Welfare 2007[20] governs the welfare of cats. For biosecurity reasons cats must undergo tests and treatment before being imported into New Zealand and in some cases direct importation is not permitted.[21] The Animal Welfare Act deems it to be illegal to abandon an unwanted cat.

Organisations[edit]

There are numerous cat welfare and cat breeding organisations in New Zealand. The Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed in 1882 and now has 47 branches around the country. Cats Unloved is a Christchurch based organisation working with cats. In 2011 the organisation was criticised for euthanasing cats with chloroform, although it is done legally and is considered to be necessary to address the problem of stray cats, seen as a large problem in the city. The animal euthanasia is done on wild and diseased cats and those which were not house trained.[22] There are also a number of Cats Protection League groups in different parts of the country.

New Zealand Cat Fancy is a governing body for the many cat clubs around the country and CATZ Inc is a registry for New Zealand cats.

Cats in popular culture[edit]

"Horse" is a cat in the popular Footrot Flats cartoon. It is a large, fierce and practically invincible cat based on one that belonged to Murray Ball, the creator of the cartoon series.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Companion Animals in New Zealand – July 2011. The New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc. 15 July 2011. 
  2. ^ "DOC's work with pets: Animal pests and threats". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  3. ^ Stewart, Matt (17 July 2012). "'They're killers': Zealandia calls for fewer cats". Dominion Post. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  4. ^ Wade, Amelia (22 January 2012). "Morgan calls for cats to be wiped out". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Call to eradicate New Zealand’s pet cats draws hisses from cat lovers", The Washington Post (Associated Press), 22 January 2013
  6. ^ "Conservationists back anti-cat campaign", TVNZ Onenews, 22 January 2013
  7. ^ Jones, Chris (March 2008). "An Assessment of the Potential Threats to Indigenous Biodiversity Posed by Cats (Felis catus) in Urban Environments". Contract Report: LC0708/092. Landcare Research. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  8. ^ "Acute toxoplasmosis impairs memory and concentration". Scoop. University of Auckland – press release. 29 January 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Wong, Weng Kit; Arlo Upton; Mark G. Thomas (2012). "Neuropsychiatric symptoms are common in immunocompetent adult patients with Toxoplasma gondii acute lymphadenitis". Scandinavian Journal of Infectious Diseases: 1–5. doi:10.3109/00365548.2012.737017. ISSN 0036-5548. 
  10. ^ The handbook of New Zealand mammals. Caroline King (ed.). Auckland, N.Z.: Oxford University Press in association with the Mammal Society, New Zealand Branch. 1995. pp. 338–339. ISBN 0195583205. 
  11. ^ Charles T. Eason; David R. Morgan; B. Kay Clapperton (1992). "Toxic bait and baiting strategies for feral cats". University of Nebraska – Lincoln: Proceedings of the Fifteenth Vertebrate Pest Conference 1992. 
  12. ^ Galbreath, R.; D. Brown (2004). "The tale of the lighthouse-keeper's cat: discovery and extinction of the Stephens Island wren (Traversia lyalli)". Notornis 51 (4): 193–200. 
  13. ^ a b Wilson, Kerry-Jane (2004). Flight of the Huia. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press. ISBN 0-908812-52-3. 
  14. ^ Keedwell, Rachel J.; Kerry P. Brown (2001). "Relative abundance of mammalian predators in the upper Waitaki Basin, South Island, New Zealand". New Zealand Journal of Zoology 28 (1): 31–38. doi:10.1080/03014223.2001.9518254. ISSN 0301-4223. 
  15. ^ "Cat nabbed raiding the mothership". Department of Conservation. 22 April 2010. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Devereux, Monique (9 October 2003). "MAF staff, wildlife experts hunt big black cat in vain". NZ Herald. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  17. ^ Ashburton Guardian: An unsolved mystery
  18. ^ Fantastic Feline – Hunting the Big Black Cat, Report by Jendy Harper, Close Up at Seven, Television New Zealand, 3 May 2005. Transcript.
  19. ^ Susan Sandys. Bid to capture black panther, Ashburton Guardian, 8 December 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  20. ^ "Animal Welfare (Companion Cats) Code of Welfare 2007". MPI Biosecurity New Zealand. 15 September 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  21. ^ "Your Pets". MPI Biosecurity New Zealand. 18 January 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  22. ^ "Metal gas chamber used to euthanase cats". The Press. 10 October 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Organisations