Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

Feral cats could face eradication

Cuties by day but merciless killers by night, cats are becoming a problem in New Zealand. Photo / iStock
Cuties by day but merciless killers by night, cats are becoming a problem in New Zealand. Photo / iStock

Eradicating feral cats and controlling the country's stray cat population are just two of key features of a leaked report of a national group formed to solve the country's "cat crisis".

Domestic cats could face a curfew if the Morgan Foundation has its way, while the SPCA would be keen to implement a de-sexing programme.

The National Cat Management Strategy Group got together in November 2014 and includes members of eight organisations including the SPCA, Morgan Foundation, New Zealand Veterinary Association [NZVA], NZ Companion Animal Council, Local Government NZ and the NZVA Companion Animal Society.

Ministry for Primary Industries and Department of Conservation have technical advisory members on board.

The group's 'strategic intent report' states that there "are estimates that indicate that there is a significant cat crisis in New Zealand."

It states it's estimated there were about 1.4 million domestic cats along with an additional 196,000 stray cats.

Geoff Simmons of the Morgan Foundation said various studies showed there were also between 2.4 and 14 million feral cats across the country.

He denied the Foundation wanted to get rid of the country's domestic cat population.

"We were never getting rid of all cats, the point was the problem is cats wondering into wildlife areas. Stray and feral cats are a major issue ... but also where people are living close to sensitive wildlife areas then domestic cats that wonder are a problem too."

Mr Simmons said once founder, Gareth Morgan, began airing his views about cats a few years ago, it led to NZVA to carry out some research.

"[The] research really backed up the point that we were trying to make ... given the emotiveness of this issue the Government is unlikely to take any action until there's some consensus amongst the major players, so that's why we thought it was worth sitting around the table and coming to a common view."

He said microchipping and keeping cats inside at night was good for the cat and environment.

"It's not really about a curfew although it may be in some areas that is a discussion but there's pretty good evidence that keeping the cat inside at night reduces its accident rates."

It was hoped the group would have something ready to put to Government "within the first half of the year".

RNZSPCA chief executive Ric Odom said progress was slowly being made, but public consultation was still to take place.

"It's really based around some principles which we've all agreed to; cats make good pets and we've got to recognise that for many, many New Zealand families cats are an integral part of the family, but we also have to recognise that particularly in some sensitive areas where we have native birds, cats can be a problem. So in respect to cats and cat ownership how do we educate the public and say we need to act responsibly.

"How will it pan out? I'm not really sure."

However, if he had one goal it would be to set up a "properly co-ordinated de-sexing programme"

But Craig Dunn of Paw Justice was unimpressed at being left out of the discussions and said the report was "heavily weighted against cats".

"We need to have facts around the information what they're saying ... I believe that cat owners should have a say about this as well, not just people that don't like cats. The big thing is that people's pets aren't caught up in this as well."

If too many cats were being wiped he wondered how that would impact the country's eco-system.

Hans Kriek, executive director of animal welfare organisation SAFE, was aware the group had been set up but was out of the loop in regards to its details.

He also backed Mr Odom's proposal of making it compulsory for cats to be desexed.

As for the cost to a cat owner, Mr Kriek said, "if you can't afford the de-sexing, you can't afford the animal".

In regards to a curfew, New Zealand Veterinary Association vice president Pieter Verhoek said he wasn't completely against the idea.

However, how and if a curfew would work was yet to be discussed.

- NZ Herald

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