The New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy Draft

This post has been a long time coming. I had been holding out for a resolution to the New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy proposal that was released in draft form in September 2016. However, a recent article in The Dominion Post hints that Wellington is going ahead without The Strategy, as the capital city looks towards new rules for the management of cats (and other animals). This follows on from the bylaw Wellington introduced last year, implemented early 2018, which mandates that all domestic cats over 12 weeks of age be microchipped and that all such microchips be registered with the NZ Companion Animal Register (NZCAR).

Maybe I should back up a little here. What is going on in New Zealand with our domestic cats? It has long been recognised that cats on islands, such as New Zealand, cause problems by predating upon wildlife [1] – and there is particular concern for native and endangered species. New Zealand has many beautiful native bird species, most of which have evolved without the need to protect themselves from predators such as cats (who were introduced later by humans). This puts them at risk of declining numbers and potential extinction. Several ‘predator-free’ (predators also include: stoats, rats, and possums) islands and land-based reserves have been established in New Zealand, in order to provide a protected environment for native species. However, there is still a need to protect the wildlife not within the confines of these sheltered areas, and to provide future-proof environments. There is a plan to make New Zealand predator-free (of possums, rats, and stoats) by the year 2050. However, this plan does not extend to cats.

Some large cities (e.g. Wellington – our capital city) are near several of these protected areas, and native bird habitats often extend outside their sheltered zone. This, in addition to wildlife already resident in the capital, has been causing problems with owned domestic (and often feral) cats. Cats are skilled hunters [1], and unfortunately their hunting zones may overlap with native bird habitats. A call to ban domestic cats in New Zealand did not go down particularly well with cat owners. New Zealand is unique, in that unlike many other countries that favour dogs, cats are our most popular companion animal pet [2]. And cat owners can be very protective of their right to own a feline friend. This provides for an interesting clash between wildlife advocates and domestic cat owners.

There is an obvious need for compromise and so representatives from various interest groups sat down together and drafted the NZ National Cat Management Strategy. The Strategy’s working group is made up of members from: The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA); NZVA Companion Animal Veterinarians (CAV); New Zealand Companion Animal Council (NZCAC); Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA); Morgan Foundation; and Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ). The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Department of Conservation (DOC) are technical advisory members. “The key principles of the strategy are the promotion of responsible cat ownership, humane cat management, and environmental protection.” (The Strategy pg7). The Strategy makes a point of recognising the positive benefits and value in cat ownership, but also acknowledges the impact cats have on native species. This gives credit to both sides of the argument for (e.g. ‘Feline Rights New Zealand’) and against (e.g. Gareth Morgan and The Morgan Foundation) cats in New Zealand.

A summary of The Strategy is available here. Briefly, the 17 key recommendations agreed by the group relate to: (1) the recognition that cats are sentient animals; (2) a focus on non-lethal control methods; (3) the identification of different cat populations (owned, feral, stray, etc.); (4) management programmes targeted specifically at stray cats; (5) targeted trap-neuter-return programmes for stray cats; (6) communication and collaboration with all stakeholders; (7) addressing inconsistencies in legislation; (8) implementing a national cat management task force; (9) A National Cat Management Act that allows for the creation and implementation of cat bylaws; (10) incremental changes to legislation; (11) cat management advisory groups for local governments; (12) evaluation of cat management strategies; (13) the reporting of these evaluations; (14) a centralised national database of cat management statistics; (15) an integrated approach to cat management; (16) those implementing cat management strategies understand the animal welfare implications and best practice for the techniques; and (17) identifying areas of high conservation value and implementing strict controls for these areas. According to the RNZSPCA, The Strategy was due to be presented to Government before the end of last year. It will be interesting to see what eventuates.

Blog post 7 image
A native New Zealand Tui enjoys the spring flowers at Massey University, Palmerston North

What will the future of cat ownership in New Zealand look like? And what are some things we could be doing now to help? Keeping cats indoors at night is likely to reduce some of their predation habits. The use of anti-predation cat collar covers may also be beneficial [3]. Having your cat(s) microchipped now could also be a good idea. Microchipping is the recommended best practice method for identification of cats in the New Zealand Companion Cats Code of Welfare, and is preferred to collar use. Desexing cats is another key owner responsibility. Chatting to (as opposed to criticising) cat owners about the harmful effects of cats on our wildlife, and giving them a few things they can try now to combat these effects, will go a long way to help New Zealand resolve this issue. Words written by a cat lover.

“There will always be cats in New Zealand and the only viable route to effective cat management is to implement facilitating legislation and simultaneously work with the stakeholders involved with all cat populations to find agreed solutions that are acceptable and have a realistic chance of reducing cat numbers and mitigating cats’ negative impact on wildlife.” (The New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy Draft 2016)

Here is a short YouTube video about the New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy.

References

  1. Medina, F.M., et al., A global review of the impacts of invasive cats on island endangered vertebrates. Global Change Biology, 2011. 17(11): p. 3503-3510.
  2. New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc., Companion Animals in New Zealand. 2016: Auckland, New Zealand.
  3. Willson, S.K., I.A. Okunlola, and J.A. Novak, Birds be safe: Can a novel cat collar reduce avian mortality by domestic cats (Felis catus)? Global ecology and conservation, 2015. 3: p. 359-366.

 

Edit (30th April 2017):

As a result of an email taking issue with my recommendation of anti-predation cat collars and their safety to cats, I would like to clarify the type of collar I suggest.

I recommend those that fit over the cat’s current (quick release or breakaway) collar and are open at one end – so that both collars release if the cat gets caught. An example of them can be found here: https://www.birdsbesafe.com/ and can be made yourself with instructions found here: