Should New Zealand Wage War on Cats?

New Zealand is a cat-friendly country according to a 2011 survey by the New Zealand Companion Animal Council, which found that 48 percent of its households has at least one feline. It’s all the more unsettling to hear about economist Gareth Morgan’sCats To Go campaign. In the name of protecting New Zealand’s native birds (some of whom, like the kiwi, are flightless), Morgan isexhorting his fellow citizensto make their current “killer kitty” their last one.

Doing so, Morgan argues, will result in a “pest free” New Zealand “teeming with native wildlife, penguins on the beach, Kiwis roaming about in your garden,” with birdsong heard in the cities. Indeed, Morgan argues that eradicating New Zealand’s cat population is crucial to preserving the country as a “premium clean, green tourism” destination.

Morgan does not call for euthanizing cats, though he does say that such is an “option.” Aside from urging people not to “replace” cats, he wants them to be belled and kept inside “from now on.” New Zealanders are requested to sign a petition to register all cats with the government and have microchips implanted in them.

Cat lovers in New Zealand have been telling Morgan to, in the words of Bob Kerridge, president of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “butt out of our lives” and not to “deprive us of the beautiful companionship that a cat can provide individually and as a family.”

Morgan’s is, well, one approach to addressing the issue of non-native species. Via his personal blog, he is running another campaign to raise$1 million to rid the remote Antipodes Islands of mice as the rodents are the only predators there.

To back up hisCats To Go campaign, Morgan cites a number of research studies about the ill effects of cats on New Zealand’s native species.Scientists in New Zealand have been responding. Dr Yolanda van Heezik, a Senior Lecturer in Zoology at the University of Otago, points out that “feral cats are known to be a problem” but the situation with pet cats is less clear. She points out that cats do prey on rats and keep that population down, and says that Morgan’s recommendations (including making the current cat one’s last) are “reasonable.”

Wildlife ecologist John Innes of Landcare Research looks at some of the research that Morgan has cited as evidence for why New Zealand must be made “predator free.” One study, notes Innes, is actually “a worldwide study of islands and not just New Zealand.” Cats “alone cannot be blamed for the loss of any species”; other animals including hedgehogs, ferrets and stoats must be considered along with the species who has “four wheel drive vehicles” and fishes — human beings.

While noting that it would be best to keep them indoors at night, Innes also points out that “the research to clarify whether the negative effects of cats on these fauna outweighs the positive effects of their predation on ship rats, Norway rats and mice has not been done.” Cats, says Innes, also prey on “small mammals, birds, lizards and invertebrates” and, in fact, areactually “not significant predators of any” of the species (kaka, kokako, mohua, t’eke and robins) thatMorgan mentions on his website, except for one, the weka.

To single out cats as solely responsible for the loss of native wildlife in New Zealand is at best unclear from available evidence. Morgan’s claims may be well-meant to preserve the unique wildlife of his country, but they are misleading and his use of research to buttress his points requires at least a second and third look. There are less drastic solutions (such as belling cats) available than eliminating cats altogether — indeed, such a policy could be folly andcreate other problems, including an increase in other non-native predators such as rodents that also prey on native birds.

A war on cats isn’t necessary. But thoughtful dialogue about how to help all species co-exist is much needed.

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Photo from Thinkstock


Sharon S.
Sharon S4 years ago

Gareth Morgan's comments have caused absolute outrage in our country (New Zealand). We are known as a laid-back country and don't usually get too het up about things, but Gareth's 'war on cats' has got the whole country talking. If his plan is to get rid of pests then he had better be very careful..........he has become a bit of a pest himself!

Virginia Woolf
Virginia W5 years ago

I totally reject and oppose Gareth Morgan's vicious anti-cat crusade here in NZ. There are far more serious issues facing NZ such as the Govt's plan to sell our assets to overseas interests and rising unemployment than this obsession. Morgan should be campaigning against the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade and the serious poaching crisis in Africa. He should be complaining about possums, stoats, ferrets, weasels, rats, mice, deforestation for farmland, planting huge areas of NZ in pine forest unsuitable habitats for any bird, drainage of wetlands, urban tree removal for infill housing developments - all these have considerably threatened and diminished native bird life. Feral cats can be a problem which needs addressing but not a vitriolic campaign against people's beloved pet cats. Possums are a huge problem which Morgan should be addressing including here in Auckland. Native birds are not commonly found in cities where people's domestic cats live. Native birds are commonly found in dense native forest areas away from well populated areas which are home instead to introduced birds such as sparrows, blackbirds, starlings & the thrush. A well fed cat doesn't need to hunt and kill birds and they tend to sleep a lot which was the case with my 2 cats when they were alive. Morgan's vitriolic and irrational cat attacks are likely to incite certain people to commit acts of cruelty against them. Morgan needs to get his facts and priorities right.

Geoffrey W.
Geoffrey W.5 years ago

How do we people in South Africa sign your petition when we are not on your list of countries

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia H5 years ago

I can't say this enough. Why are they killing them when they can have people who care about them lay down food with birthcontrol? What is everyones problem?

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen P5 years ago everyone has feral problem

Carrie Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne B5 years ago

thanks for sharing :)

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen P5 years ago


Sheri D.
Sheri D5 years ago

Spay/neuter cats to end overpopulation. Spay/neuter/return for feral cat colonies. Every cat should have a home and a human owner.

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen P5 years ago

Fiona S. when communicating with people who collect pelts and bones, I read that the feral Australian cats are "Huge", not iddy biddy housecats, but "monsters" with rippliong muscles. But then I see the hunter with a felis cattus and it didn't look that big. (bigger than a ragdoll or maine coon)

so also. bell'ing a cat. you need a collar that will not snag and hang the cat. I have tried collaring mine several times, and he had gone though 3 collars. only one was retrieved/found.

so if you do not have an elastic collar, or one with a buckle snap, "you" want people's cats to hang?

this cat we have, it seems like he eats all the time and still kills rodents. but I have an intrest in taxidermy. so i take what he kills and skin it. It is nothing like hunting beat with hounds, or killing tiger for fur.

"you" people are ok with letting a cat do it's natuiral hunting and killing. so what is wrong with me taking the fur? a chimpmunk dosen't need it's hide. and I do not belive a ghost chippy is going to be wandering around looking for it's skin that would of rotted in 6 months. The cat vomits up wild things he eats. In-before the 'eww you play with corpses" you make it sound like humping a putrifed corpse. what about mortitans then? if someone died a messy death, someone is paied to play "makeup" with a dead human so they look nice for an open casket funeral.

you might as well tell leather craftsmen "you play with corpses"

Fiona Stonehouse
Fiona Stonehouse5 years ago

A lot of you don't seem to understand that the issue is more complicated than people's pets killing the odd sparrow (which is neither native nor under threat of extinction in NZ). Colleen P got it in one. There is two separate issues with cats in NZ.
One is wild (feral) cats that have bred for generations in the wild or are victims of being dumped there and are killing for a living in the native bush and having some effect on the native bird life but not as great an effect as the possum or stoat or rat. The other issue is domestic cats killing the native birds, like tui, fantail and bellbird that can survive on the fringes of urban areas, as well as introduced birds, like blackbird, starling, sparrow and silver-eye.
I agree that domestic cats murderous activities could be curtailed by bell wearing, confining in appropriate apartments and encouraging responsible pet ownership and neutering of all moggies. However it is just naive to think that trap, neuter and release will work in NZ's native reserves. I have already mentioned why this won't work - areas are too vast, too wild and the animals are too feral and too small.