Tucked away in an isolated corner of the world, New Zealand is home to 20 unique species of animals and birds, including the iconic Kiwi. The ground-dwelling, flightless bird has faced a constant threat from non-native species. Its population, decreasing at a rate of 20 per week, has now reached a number less than 70,000. As a matter of fact, introduced species kill more than 25 million native New Zealand birds each year, hurting the economy by $2.3 billion annually. This has prompted the New Zealand government to announce an ambitious “world-first” project, which aims to wipe out introduced species of rats, stoats, and possums to make the nation predator-free by 2050. A regional council in South New Zealand has decided to build upon the project, calling for the ban of all domesticated cats in the region in an attempt to protect native animals.
The proposal was undertaken by the South Island Council as a part of its Pest Management Plan. According to the proposed plan, all domesticated cats in the Omaui region are to be neutered, microchipped, and registered with Environment Southland. Once a domesticated cat dies, residents will not be permitted to have another one. The Council has hopes to witness responsible pet ownership, reminding the owners that the region isn’t the place for cats. Cats have come under the spotlight for their penchant to target native birds. The Environmental Southland is especially concerned over Bengal Cats. They have shown a tendency to breed with existing wild feral cats to create a breed of efficient predator, posing threat to the endemic species.
First introduced by European immigrants in the 1800s, the population of domestic cats have surged to 1.4 million, in a country inhabited by 5 million people. Ali Meade, the Council’s biosecurity operations manager, has said, “There are cats getting into the native bush; they’re preying on native birds, they’re taking insects, they’re taking reptiles – they’re doing quite a bit of damage.” In fact, six native bird species, including the Lyall’s Wren, have become extinct due to repeated attacks by feral cats.
The proposal has received significant backlash from feline lovers in the region. Nico Jarvis, an Omaui resident, demonstrated shock and genuine concern against the plan. She said her three cats were the only way to fight against the massive rodent problem in the area. “If I cannot have a cat, it almost becomes unhealthy for me to live in my house,” she said. As the submissions on the Pest Management Plan is due to close at the end of October 2018, she and other cat-owing residents are nervously waiting to see if the ‘cat-ban’ occurs. In case it passes, they plan on signing a petition that repeals the ban.
A few regions in New Zealand has already reinstated similar rules concerning cats. Kotuku Parks, located in the Kapiti Islands, has a no-cat rule in their domain. The council of Auckland has a rule which puts down any cat caught in an “ecologically significant site” without a microchip.
Cats have long seen as a danger to ecosystems, being ranked among the 100 worst non-native invasive species in the world. The South Island Council’s plan is critical in making New Zeland ‘predator-free’ by 2050, in hopes of saving the native species that are found in the country.