We Kiwis love our pets, and for good reason. Pets are good for our health and wellbeing and can bring a lot of pleasure to our lives. However, it’s worth taking a moment to spare a thought for our native animals and the negative impact our pets could be having on them.
What’s the impacts of cats?
You don’t have to be a scientist to know that many pet cats catch birds. Published studies recording the prey caught by domestic cats in New Zealand report that silvereyes, rats and mice are all common prey, but cats also catch native species. Fantails seem to be particularly vulnerable and a study in Auckland noted Kereru, Tui, Grey Warbler and Kingfisher, as well as skinks, geckos, frogs, crickets, weta and cicadas appearing on the feline menu1.
Another study identified that about one third of cats did not bring any prey home, about a half brought back prey infrequently, and about 20% were frequent hunters2, and overseas it has been reported that most cats bring back only one third of the prey that they actually caught and killed, so estimates of numbers killed in New Zealand are probably on the low side.
Most people never give the issue much thought, or they think that the one or two birds caught by their own cat makes no difference. But when you consider that New Zealand has an estimated companion cat population of 1.4 million and a household cat ownership level reported to be approximately 48%, even though individual cats may catch only a few birds, cumulatively the total number of birds and native animals killed is large. Feral and stray cats3 add more weight to the problem. With these figures you can begin to understand where pet free covenants in kiwi areas, and to some degree politicians like Gareth Morgan are coming from. You can also understand why some subdivision conditions, especially where they are based on protecting natural features and the native fauna that use it, restrict pet ownership.
On the positive side, cats do prey on rats, which are also significant predators of wildlife. This is an argument for carrying out rat control in areas where cats are absent or being restricted from hunting.
If you are a pet owner, what does this mean for you? Take some time to observe your cat (or dog) and find out if it’s a hunter – and remember they don’t have to be bringing home the spoils to prove it to you.
If you think your cat could be killing native wildlife, consider using a collar with a bell (which have been shown to reduce the catch by 50%), keeping your cat inside, especially at night, make sure your cat is well fed, and consider not replacing your cat when it eventually dies.
If you’re really interested in protecting our native fauna, trapping or baiting for rats at the same time as controlling pet cats is the best option. For this reason, consider joining or supporting a community group that is actively undertaking predator control.
Also consider de-sexing your cat and finally, don’t dump unwanted kittens! Everyone working together on this issue can make a big difference.
Pest management strategy
Auckland Council is currently looking at changing ways it manages pests, by reviewing its 2007 Pest Management Strategy. The proposed Regional Pest Management Plan includes plans for managing pest cats at sites with high biodiversity value. This is particularly important as population growth and intensification of development put increasing pressure on remnant forest, wetlands and other vulnerable native ecosystems. The Council recognises the need to balance wildlife protection with the value cats hold as New Zealand’s most common companion animal, and the proposed approach does not involve controlling non-microchipped cats in urban areas. The proposed plan will go out for public consultation with the council’s 10-year budget later this year.
If you’re interested in these issues, make sure you get involved and provide feedback to the Council.
Do you have consent notice conditions or resource consent conditions that restrict pet ownership? If you’re confused about what’s required, give our team a call or e-mail, email@example.com.
Tracy is a Planner with an M.Sc. in Resource Management.
Tracy has worked assisting Senior Planners with the preparation and lodgement of resource consent applications, as well as planning. She also provided support in client liaison, contractor engagement and general communications.
Gillies C, Clout M. The prey of domestic cats (Felis catus) in two suburbs of Auckland City, New Zealand. Journal of Zoology 259, 309-15, 2003
van Heezik Y, Smyth A, Adams A, Gordon J. Do domestic cats impose an unsustainable harvest on urban bird populations? Biological Conservation 143, 121-30, 2010
Fanworth, Mark (2013), A systematic review of the impacts of feral, stray and companion domestic cats (Felis catus) on wildlife in New Zealand and options for their management.
Disclaimer As with all our blogs, the information detailed here is general in nature and meant as a preliminary guide only. This should not be substituted for your own investigations or use of your own professional’s.