New Zealand has the highest rate of cat ownership in the world.
Cats are unusual in that they are a predator of our native species as well as pets and companions for many people. Owned cats have a place in our society but feral or unowned cats do not.
New Zealand’s taonga evolved over millions of years, isolated from the rest of the world, so they didn’t develop defenses against mammalian predators such as cats. Cats were one of the first introduced species to establish in New Zealand, they arrived with European ships in 1769 as cats were carried onboard to keep rat numbers down. 50 years later there was an established feral cat population. Cats were then deliberately released in the 1870s in an attempt to control rabbit numbers.
Cats are highly skilled hunters and are known to kill all kinds of native wildlife including birds, bats, lizards and insects. Cats are an apex predator in New Zealand — this means nothing preys on them and therefore humans need to minimise their impact on our ecosystems as much as possible.
Did you know:
- Cats were originally introduced to 30 of our offshore islands but they have now been removed from over half of these. Cat removal is challenging — to remove 100 cats from Little Barrier Island it took 400 days and the help of 128 people.
- Cats kill native birds and in our cities birds do not breed fast enough to stop the decline caused by domestic cats. (1).
- Cats have been implicated in the eradication of many species including the Stephen Islands Wren. There is also a well reported case where one feral cat killed 102 endangered native short tail bats in one week.
- Cats hunt regardless of hunger, so even well fed cats can be destructive hunters. Studies show cats only bring home a fraction of what they hunt (approximately 25%). This means that even if there isn’t any proof of hunting it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.
What can you do?
Responsible cat ownership is important. It includes microchipping cats, desexing, limiting the number of cats per household and keeping cats inside as much as possible.
Here are some things to consider:
- Microchipping and desexing are important steps of cat ownership. Desexing prevents any unwanted kittens and microchipping helps identify your cat as owned.
- Consider keeping your cat indoors or containing it to your own property – there are some great options to contain your cat to your backyard eg cat enclosures or catios let your cat roam around outside without the impact on native species. Raising an indoor cat is very common overseas and cats quickly get used to living solely inside.
- If you’re not ready to keep your cat indoors all the time, keep your cat inside as much as possible but at a minimum an hour before dusk and an hour after dawn — this is when our lizards are at their slowest and are easy prey for cats.
- Add bells to your cats collar — the more bells the better. Bells don’t completely stop hunting but they do minimise it.
- Minimise the number of cats you own and consider not replacing your cat when it dies or replace it with a cat that is an indoor cat.
- Controlling cats needs to be done as humanely as possible and live capture traps are one of the best tools available. Live capture traps also allow users to confirm if the cat is an owned domestic cat or not. If you have a problem with unowned or feral cats we recommend you contact your Regional Council.
- Trials test feasibility of removing pigs, cats and mice from Auckland Island
- Feral cats feast on Australian reptiles
- Can feral cats limit rats?
- Cats vs Rats (and the big ones that get away)
- City cats – what don’t we know and how can we find out?
- Tracking cats on Rakiura/Stewart Island
- van Heezik, Y. et al Do domestic cats impose an unsustainable harvest on urban bird populations? Biological Conservation 143 (2010) 121–130