Claws out in New Zealand over anti-cat campaign

Native bird species such as kiwis are threatened by predation from cats. Picture: Reuters
Native bird species such as kiwis are threatened by predation from cats. Picture: Reuters
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GARETH Morgan has a simple dream: a New Zealand free of pet cats that threaten native birds. But the wealthy environmental advocate has triggered a hissing backlash with his new anti-feline campaign.

Mr Morgan yesterday called on his countrymen to make their current cat their last in order to save the nation’s unique bird species. He set up a website, called Cats To Go, depicting a tiny kitten with red devil’s horns. The opening line: “That little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer.”

He doesn’t recommend that people have their current cats put down – “Not necessarily but that is an option” are the site’s exact words – but rather neuter them and not replace them when they die.

“We appreciate the fact that you have an emotional connection with your pet and that pet ownership is a rewarding experience, but there’s a real problem with cats – they kill for pleasure,” the site adds.

Mr Morgan, an economist and businessman, also suggests people keep cats indoors and that local governments make registration a legal duty.

But his campaign is not sitting well in a country that boasts one of the highest cat ownership rates in the world.

“I say to Gareth Morgan, butt out of our lives,” Bob Kerridge, the president of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the current affairs television show Campbell Live.

“Don’t deprive us of the beautiful companionship that a cat can provide, individually and as a family.”

SPCA Canterbury chief executive Barry Helem said Mr Morgan’s views were “a bit extreme”.
He said: “To reduce the over-population of cats, it is important that pet owners de-sex their cats to reduce the number of stray, unwanted animals that may become a problem to ­native birds.”

For thousands of years, New Zealand’s native birds had no predators and flourished. Some species, such as the kiwi, became flightless. But the arrival of mankind and its introduction of predators such as cats, dogs and rodents has wiped out some native bird species altogether and endangered many others.

“Imagine a New Zealand teeming with native wildlife, penguins on the beach, kiwis roaming about in your garden,” Mr Morgan writes on his website. “Imagine hearing birdsong in our cities.”

But many New Zealanders are against the campaign. Even on Mr Morgan’s website, 70 per cent yesterday were voting against making their current cat their last.

Mr Morgan could not be reached for comment.

The science around the issue remains unclear. Some argue that cats may actually help ­native birds by reducing the population of rodents, which sometimes feed on bird eggs.

Mr Morgan’s personal blog, in fact, has a separate campaign to raise $1 million (£530,000) to eradicate mice from the remote Antipodes Islands, where they are the only predators.

A 2011 survey by the New Zealand Companion Animal Council found that 48 per cent of households in New Zealand owned at least one cat, a significantly higher rate than in other developed nations. The survey put the total cat population at 
1.4 million. In comparison, about 16 per cent of Scottish households have a cat.