I caught a mouse in my compost bin, but it jumped over me to freedom. Rats live there now. The holes dug through my rotting household waste are large.
Five neighbourhood cats visit my backyard. They take turns arriving at first light for reconnaissance of my weedy wilderness and then to sit atop the fence to wait for prey. There are Australian possums living over the road. I step over their poo on my way down to Marsden Village for the Saturday paper and morning coffee.
I saw a weasel dash across Braithwaite Street. It ascended the steep rocky hillside towards Ponsonby Road like it was falling. My neighbourhood is alive with killers of native wildlife. Only my cats are dead – buried under the kowhai tree. They lived full lives indoors.
The ‘cats-to-go’ debate, like most controversies about wildlife, is hot but moves like cold molasses. Debates about wildlife are endless. They become mired by opinions on both sides that are unmoved by evidence. But then, the evidence also needs to be better.
We should not rely on scientists from outside our community for the evidence. If we leave the evidence up to outside experts, our contrary opinions will not be moved. One side of the debate will inevitably dispute third-party, even expert, evidence – not trusting its impartiality or relevance. Our opinions as a community can only be moved if we gather the evidence ourselves.
Communities divided by controversies, like ours over cats and native wildlife, could make progress where others have failed by joining together to test our opinions and build our own evidence cooperatively. This is the solution to the debate about cats and wildlife in our cities.
Together, in our own neighbourhoods and backyards, we could conduct the greatest community ecological experiment this country has ever known. Unless we do, we will not make progress the way communities should make progress on the things that are important to them – their pets and the native wildlife.
Let us meet. The ‘cat-lovers’ who want their moggies to be able to roam free should meet. The ‘bird-lovers’ should meet too. At those meetings we will decide what we want to know about cats and wildlife that could be measured to answer the questions most important to us. Then we can convene a working group of representatives from both groups and design this grand experiment to answer those important questions.
In making your decisions at meetings invite the opinions of experts so that you are informed by the best on offer. BUT… the final decisions about the important questions to answer, things to measure, and the experiment’s design must be your own.
The experiment? Some neighbourhoods will keep their cats indoors for a year. Others will not but instead trap rats. Some will do both. Still other neighbourhoods might do it all – killing rats, possum and weasels – cats indoors Karori, no rats Northland, hardly any possum Highbury, and killing-fields Kelburn. We could measure and compare the suburbs’ wildlife during and at the end of the year.
Such grand experiments by citizens to resolve debates like ours are becoming routine in other parts of the world. When citizens holding different opinions come together to design experiments to test their ideas and resolve controversies they have a stake in the outcome. People are persuaded and solutions are found.
Lets do it.
* Be part of the developing New Zealand’s grandest wildlife experiment by filling out this short, 6-question survey: Click here to take survey [13 June, 2013]