Free cat collars to protect native birds

By Peter de Graaf of the Northern Advocate -
Sixteen-year-old Phoenix Bright-Young with Lucky the cat and Bay Bush Action trustee Craig Salmon with the Opua State Forest in the distance. Photo / APN
Sixteen-year-old Phoenix Bright-Young with Lucky the cat and Bay Bush Action trustee Craig Salmon with the Opua State Forest in the distance. Photo / APN

An environmental group is putting its money where its mouth is by giving away hundreds of cat collars in a bid to protect Northland's native birds.

The trustees of Bay Bush Action, a volunteer group working to eliminate pests and restore wildlife in Opua State Forest, dug into their own pockets to buy 300 collars retailing at $11 each. The one-size-fits-all, vet-approved collars come with two bells and a safety release in case it gets snagged.

Studies have found bell collars can cut bird kills by 50 per cent.

Initially the offer was open to cat owners in the Bay of Islands only, but the trustees have now expanded it to all wildlife areas in Northland.

One of the first to take up the offer was 16-year-old Phoenix Bright-Young and her cat Lucky, so named because he was found abandoned as a kitten 11 years ago. Phoenix' home is surrounded by bush and Opua State Forest is just a short stroll away.

Phoenix had become concerned by the number of birds Lucky was catching, mostly waxeyes and fantails with the odd sparrow.

She once saw him catch three in one day; she's seen him have a go at tui and once he even managed to hook a kukupa (native pigeon).

"Anything with feathers and wings. He devours them completely. It's not like we don't feed him."

The cat collar initiative came about during the debate sparked by Gareth Morgan and controversy over a stray cat colony at Paihia's Village Green.

Bay Bush Action trustee Craig Salmon said the group put a lot of effort into pest trapping but the cat collars could be even more beneficial for wildlife. "It's a really simple thing people can do to protect a lot of birds and help solve the problems we're facing."

Mr Salmon said the group did not want to get rid of cats.

"We realise cats are part of people's lives. We advocate responsible ownership."

Fellow trustee Brad Windust said the statistics were "scary". New Zealand's 1.4 million domestic cats were estimated to kill about five million native birds a year. Cats had contributed to the extinction of at least 11 native birds, possibly as many as 21.

Bay Bush Action has set up rat, possum and stoat traps in 170ha of the 4000ha Opua State Forest and hopes to expand its intensive trapping area by 50ha a year. So far the group has caught more than 600 possums, 800 rats and 24 stoats.

Mr Salmon said the increase in bird numbers in the few years since trapping started had been "astounding".

To get a free collar go to baybushaction.org.nz, click on the link and fill in your details. Cat owners without internet access can write to Bay Bush Action, PO Box 533, Paihia.

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