Cat activists are desperately forking out tens of thousands of dollars to desex and microchip strays as the number of cats euthanised under Auckland's contentious new pest management plan hits 88.
The culling of cats found without microchips in "ecologically sensitive areas" of the Auckland region was a controversial component of Auckland Council's 2019 Regional Pest Management Strategy (RPMS), which officially took effect in March.
Animal activists had repeatedly objected during RPMS' 12-month consultation period that unchipped domestic cats were at risk of being rounded up in the hundreds of "ecologically sensitive areas" scattered across the Auckland Region.
Whether justified or not, such fears have activists personally housing more than 10 cats at time and reportedly spending up to $100,000 of their own money on desexing and medical costs.
• READ MORE: On the prowl with Auckland's cat vigilantes
Despite figures on the number of cats culled in 2018 not being available, Auckland Council's biosecurity principal advisor Dr Imogen Bassett says the 88 euthanised feral cat number is not actually a reflection of the new RPMS that is "not yet operative".
"We don't expect a huge change in the number of cats being euthanised under the new plan compared to the old one," Dr Bassett told the Herald.
"Council only undertakes a very small amount of cat-trapping in sites with threatened native species such as breeding shorebirds and seabirds.
"From the original proposal, several changes were made to make it clearer the plan is only about managing unowned cats in areas where threatened species are present, to protect our native wildlife from extinction."
Of the 88 cats euthanised in the last four months, 55 were on Great Barrier Island and 33 in Auckland.
Yet, the council's assurances are not providing relief to groups such as the Community Cat Coalition and NZ Cat Foundation.
"Over New Zealand there are actually thousands of ecologically sensitive areas, so which ones are they targeting?" asked NZ Cat Foundation chairwoman Anne Batley Burton.
"It's really important to know where these 88 cats were picked up from and killed. They will not tell us exactly which areas they are talking about. They're not being transparent."
"We want to know if our cat walks out the back here [Ayr Reserve, Parnell] and the next thing someone picks it up and it ends up dead."
Multiple times a week, volunteers from these cat groups stake out suburban streets in suburbs near Auckland's rural urban boundary, such as Massey and Ranui, to trap stray cats so they can be desexed.
In 2018, and 2019 so far, SPCA provided cat desexing grants totalling $120,000 to volunteer groups such as the Community Cat Coalition, Hurrah and Franklin Cat Rescue.
Community Cat Coalition chairwoman Bridget Thompson says they received $45,000 of these SPCA funds in 2018 but it ran out in August last year, leaving volunteers to pay $15,000 for desexing for the rest of 2018.
Batley Burton says she has personally spent around $100,000 to desex, vaccinate, microchip hundreds of cats - as well as establishing a sanctuary for old and sick cats in Huapai.
Lynfield Vets' Jo Lin Chia says she has desexed at least 500 stray cats for volunteer groups over the last 10 months, at a total spend of approximately $70,000.
On average she says each cat costs $100-150 for vaccination, microchipping, desexing, deworming and to deflea.
"Over the last 10 months we've done a hell of a lot. When there's no funding the volunteers fork out themselves," Chia says.
"One lady in her 70s in Te Atatu goes out and traps cats and when there's no money from Cat Coalition, she cleans houses for money to pay for all the desexing."
The financial strain on cat welfare activists may soon be further supported by Auckland Council - which has also desexed 104 feral cats since July 2018.
"We'll be looking for sponsorship opportunities to partner with other organisations to make ratepayers' money go further, allowing us to extend this initiative," Bassett said.