Today we and our partners are releasing the draft National Cat Management Strategy which aims to ensure every cat is responsibly owned, improving the outcomes for both cats and wildlife.
Cat Management: A New Dawn?
In 2013, the Morgan Foundation set the cat amongst the pigeons by pointing out that we’d never have a truly Predator Free New Zealand until we managed our pet cats. We were arguing that cats needed to be managed in the same way that dogs are.
We weren’t the first people to say this. Maybe it was the way we said it. It’s fair to say that “Cats to Go” was a controversial campaign title, which was needed to get people’s attention and start the debate.
The Morgan Foundation is all about stirring up debate, but even we had no idea that the response on this issue would be so big. The fur really flew; we got hate mail, even death threats. We upset a lot of people that are interested in cat welfare. The media storm reverberated around the world.
But three years later, the debate has matured, and an incredible amount has changed.
First off, the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) commissioned research on the cat issue. This confirmed the findings of our research, that wandering cats pose a threat to native species (including birds and lizards), and that the cat population required management. Crucially, the research showed that there could be gains for cat welfare and native wildlife from such a move. After all, unowned cats often lead a short, brutal life, and owned cats that wander are at greater risk of accidents, injury and disease. It took real guts for NZVA to look at such a controversial issue.
Secondly, ongoing research from Unitec, Victoria and Otago Universities and the Morgan Foundation has helped confirm many international findings in the New Zealand context. We now understand how far cats wander. We know that in urban areas cats are the most numerous wandering predator, and contribute to an unsustainable impact on native creatures, particularly lizards. This research is important and needs to continue to help us understand the challenge and what will work to solve it.
Thirdly, on the back of leadership from NZVA, we saw that actually the interests of wildlife and cat welfare weren’t so far apart. Other groups started to join the cat management conversation. Together with NZVA the RNZSPCA, Companion Animal Council, Companion Animal Society, and the Morgan Foundation have formed a National Cat Management Strategy Group. In consultation with stakeholders and with advice from central and local government officials we have agreed on the goal that all cats in New Zealand should be owned. We are have now released a draft action plan which we are consulting on and will present to the government later this year.
We are starting to see glimmers of leadership at a local level. The Wellington City Council has been first out of the blocks, agreeing to a bylaw to microchip all cats. When implemented this will allow the Council to manage cats found in reserves where native species are breeding. Owned cats would be returned to their owners with information to help people become responsible pet owners, while unowned cats can be rehomed. Environment Southland has also been talking to communities about managing cats in sensitive wildlife areas as part of an update of their Regional Pest Management Strategy. Bay of Plenty Regional Council is doing a lot of work with the stray cat colonies in Rotorua.
But at the moment local communities don’t have all the powers to manage cats in a way that works for them. The National Cat Management Strategy calls for a range of measures, including new legislation that would enable local communities to take action in a way that works for their area.
The Morgan Foundation helped found a movement known as Predator Free New Zealand back in 2012. Four years later the Government has thrown its weight behind a goal of being Predator Free by 2050. Our Enhancing the Halo project, including making one suburb (Crofton Downs) predator free, is being taken nationwide by Kiwibank through Predator Free Communities.
We hope that the Government works with the partners in the National Cat Management Strategy Group to implement the strategy. This would allow us to truly fulfill the vision of a Predator Free New Zealand.
It would be good for cats, and good for wildlife.