Talk to the Animals

Zoologist and animal behaviour expert, Sally Hibbard, is interested in the relationship between people and their pets. She’s a fan of frogs, scared of spiders and can be seen spotting stick insects.

Talk to the Animals: Do Kiwis hate cats?

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Moomoo the cat, who was shot in the head with a crossbow bolt late last year.
Moomoo the cat, who was shot in the head with a crossbow bolt late last year.

The recent incidents of members of the public killing neighbourhood cats makes me wonder if there is a changing attitude in our communities towards the feline fraternity.

Perhaps cats are now considered by some in the same light as that most disliked of all NZ's introduced animals, the possum.

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The extensive media coverage of Gareth Morgan's stance on cats has prompted suggestions that this encourages some people take their dislike of cats to a new level.

Although I am not a supporter of the methods Mr Morgan proposes, I don't believe his intention was to incite cruelty to animals.

The nature of the reported cat killings seem to indicate the work of disturbed individuals rather than dedicated environmentalists. These acts of cruelty are not effective in terms of meaningful cat control, with the only result being extreme distress to pet owners and those unfortunate enough to encounter the gruesome aftermath. Whether the individuals responsible felt empowered to commit these acts as a result of anti-cat sentiment in the press is something we can only speculate on.

Incidents such as this raise issues of public perceptions around 'pest' animals and their treatment.

Does pest status take away an animal's right to be treated humanely?

Christine Kalin, CEO of Auckland's SPCA says "it's not okay to abuse or cause harm to any animal and if there is cruelty to a possum we would want to know about it".

While there is no disputing the damage that possums do to the environment, or the impact of predation by pet and feral cats, this does not make these animals 'evil'.

Possums for example did not choose to live in NZ and munch their way through our forests. They were brought here by early New Zealanders in the hope of establishing a fur trade. These resourceful animals have thrived here without the controls of predation and limited food sources their native ecosystem provides.


Possums are a pest in New Zealand. Photo / Thinkstock

The preferred method of control for possums is the use of 1080, a synthetic and highly concentrated form of a toxin found in some plants to deter mammalian browsing.

Although this is the most effective means to date for controlling possums, it takes several hours to kill and certainly causes pain and suffering as it does so. Allowing our native species to be threatened by the impact of possums is obviously not acceptable, but is it really okay to control these animals in such an inhumane way? Many Australians don't think so and are quite upset at our treatment of an animal that enjoys protected status in its homeland.

Insisting on more humane methods to control pest species is not an easy sell. It is hard to argue with the urgency of the controls needed when looking at footage of a possum munching its way through baby Kea. Balancing the rights of all animals to humane treatment with those of our native animals to exist is a debate with merit on both sides.

In contrast those cowardly individuals killing their neighbours pets have no sensible argument to fall back on and can hope for little more than a jail sentence for their troubles.

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