Cat-aclysm: New Zealand village considers banning felines to save endangered birds
These cats in the Czech Republic can sleep easy, for now. (DAVID W CERNY/Reuters) August 30 at 4:13 PM
First, New Zealand declared war on dirty-clawed predators â" stoats, rats, weasels â" and there was little to be missed. But as the fight comes to the kitties, some owners are paws-sitively outraged.
New Zealandâs efforts to protect its most rarefied creatures are turning to a measure that has rattled many cat owners: banning feline friends. The southern coastal village of Omaui â" inhabited by 35 people, seven or eight cherished cats and a slew of endangered species, according to reporting from the New York Times â" is considering a âpest planâ to defend New Zealandâ s vulnerable native wildlife. The plan would prohibit domestic cats, arguing owners should be willing to put the islandâs extraordinary biodiversity over their furry companions.
âOften people have a choice. Is it the native birds and wildlife, like the lizards, insects they want to thrive? Or is it the cat?â Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, commenting on similar cat bans, told Newshub.
Introduced on Tuesday, the Omaui proposal â" which targets 72 predators, including domestic cats â" would require current cat-izens to be neutered, micro-chipped and registered within six months. After a cat dies, its owner would not be allowed to get another. Should residents resist, the government would force them to exile their cats â" or seize them as a last resort.
Opponents of the plan say that ridding the village of a few felines wonât protect the endangered species, but will leave vermin to run rampant.
âIt doesnât matter how many [rodents] I trap and poison, more just keep coming in from the bush,â Nico Jarvis, an Omaui resident who owns three cats and is starting a petition to combat the ban, told the Otago Daily Times. âIf I cannot have a cat, it almost becomes unhealthy for me to live in my house.â
Jarvis accused Environment Southland, the regional council behind the pest plan, of behaving âlike a police stateâ by trying to prohibit Omauiâs domestic cats, and said the majority of the community thinks the benefit to local wildlife would be negligible. But Jeremy Collins, the Omaui Landcare Charitable Trust chairman who pushed for the ban, said heâs seen native birds âripped to piecesâ on his front lawn, the Otago Daily Times reported.
âNative wildlife is disappearing rapidly around the country and places like this, where people still live and enjoy and hear the birdsong, are probably few and far between,'' Collins told the Otago Daily Times.
New Zealand has the highest p roportion of endangered species in the world, as it is home to more than 4,000-odd threatened creatures and critters, ranging from the small Maui and Hectorâs dolphins to the fluffy, flightless Kiwi, the nation's icon. Environmental experts say New Zealandâs rare, native species have been terrorized by invaders that arrived alongside the countryâs settlers 200 years ago.
âThe best way to describe it is New Zealand is the âland without teeth.â If it has four legs, fur and teeth, it never evolved here,â endangered species ambassador Nicola Toki told Newshub.
In 2016, the country pledged to wipe out all invasive mammals by 2050, as it dedicated NZ$2.3 billion to its âPredator Free New Zealandâ plan. The government says these creatures kill 25 million native birds every year, spread diseases and cost the New Zealand economy and primary sector NZ$3.3 billion a year. The breadth of the nationâs extensive conservation efforts have been compared to the Apollo space program.
Domestic cats, however, werenât included on the 2016 hit list, perhaps because of New Zealandâs singular feline infatuation. According to some estimates, New Zealand has more cats per capita than any country in the world. A former conservation minister proposed a nationwide cat cap â" two per household, but support fell short.
The targeting of cats has been brewing for years. Famed feline antagonist Gareth Morgan, an economist and environmentalist, has called cats âfriendly neighborhood serial killersâ, and has pushed for a total wipeout of the creatures â" a movement he titled âCats To Goâ â" since 2013. The group's website once featured a photoshopped picture of a demon kitten, with red eyes and devil horns, according to reporting from the New Zealand Herald. It also referred to cats as âthe only true sadists of the animal world."
While many experts said Morganâs characterization of house cats was radical, re search has actually shifted in his favor, as domestic cats have been found responsible for the extinction of several bird species. Since the 1900s, the country has created a handful of cat-free subdivisions in areas close to wildlife sanctuaries, and several of its outlying islands have banned them completely. Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage recently called for a cat ban in New Zealandâs capital, Wellington, to restore the kiwi population. Auckland, New Zealandâs largest city, is considering a plan to kill unmicrochipped cats that prowl sensitive areas, according to Stuff.
Omaui residents have until Oct. 23 to weigh in on the proposal.
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