Cat-astrophy in search of solutions

By - Wayne Linklater 22/01/2013

Gareth Morgan’s call for the gradual reduction in cat numbers and ownership, especially from parts of New Zealand near places where our nation’s biodiversity live is a welcome ‘public face’ to a long-running discussion amongst ecological scientists and conservationists.

Commentators and media, unfortunately, have made a hash of Dr. Morgan’s suggestion – reinterpretation towards misrepresentation. It is too easy to grab attention and sell advertising by claiming that Dr. Morgan is pitting conservationists against cat-lovers in ways that are unnecessary and inflammatory. Such mis-representation of his approach and argument is not the way forward on this issue. Dr. Morgan, however, can see the way.

Dr. Morgan has not advocated “taking peoples kittens away”, euthanasia, or wholesale removal of all domestic cats in the short-term – even if that might be laudable long-term (think 100 years). Instead he has suggested policy on cat ownership, regulation, and voluntary non-replacement, especially targeted at areas where our native biodiversity is most valuable and vulnerable, like around biodiversity sanctuaries.

Importantly, Dr. Mogan has understood the complexity of the human-cat relationship at community scales and has engaged with the public to encourage non-replacement. This is social communication and marketing meets ecological science at its best. Good on him for engaging in this way with aspirational goals but also reasonable mechanisms to achieve them. A ‘conversation’ that engages with the wider and diverse public constructively in debate and action.

Unfortunately, other agencies did not engage constructively with the topic or Dr. Morgan. In particular, the response of SPCA representatives was not nearly as considered. I wonder whether SPCA CEO, Robert Kerridge, regards the SPCA as the Society for the Protection of Cats Ad nauseum, rather than the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that it is. It is certain that cats can be reduced in number in New Zealand in ways that assist conserving biodiversity and protect the environment without cruelty. SPCA’s mandate is to prevent cruelty, not protect cats. I think they have over-stepped.

An argument can also be launched that cats are a cause of significant cruelty to native animals. By not protecting the rights and welfare of native animals we could be regarded as flagrantly unethical. The rights and welfare of native animals and the rights of New Zealanders to access, enjoy and benefit from our nations native biodiversity are diminished by the super-abundance of cats in our landscapes. A cat owner pursuing the right to have a cat without regulation, impinges on the rights and welfare of other native animals and people. New Zealand is for all New Zealanders. Not just cats and cat owners. Can they learn to share?

In a follow-up post I will debate the evidence for cats killing New Zealand’s native wildlife. It is critical that our decisions, actions and policies be evidence based. Fortunately, science is available to inform these things and we can do a good job of ensuring that a solution is found in ways that are largely supported by our communities.

0 Responses to “Cat-astrophy in search of solutions”

  • Is there any data on whether it is feral or domestic cats that do the most damage to native wildlife? Intuitively you would think it would be feral cats that did the most damage country wide – far away from less pristine urban environments. Hence compulsary neutering, with licenced and regulated breeders, maybe the best first step?

  • […] I have been outspoken about the need for us to question our love affair with cats since long before Gareth began his campaign, and I see nothing wrong with asking people not to replace their cat when it dies (especially if you live in or near amazing wildlife areas). In fact, on perusing his website, under the “What you can do” section, he says “We don’t suggest you knock your favourite furry friend on the head.”  The suggestions there are about thinking about not replacing your cat when it dies, getting it neutered, getting a bell and getting your local council to introduce registration of cats. The enormous “Pussy Riot” via traditional and social media that has ensued is inaccurate and, frankly, disturbing. Wayne Linklater over at the Science Media Centre, covers the issue well here. […]

  • […] also like to complete advocating for integrating the 3Rs of enviromental policy and continue my series on domestic cats and their management for wildlife. My research groups work to develop a super-lure for New Zealand’s pest mammals will also […]