Culture of conflict or Society of Solutions – what are we?

By - Wayne Linklater 30/06/2013


Why has Australian local government, despite the public debate there, found and implemented solutions to the cat-wildlife problem but New Zealand has not? Why has the debate amongst Kiwis become a conflict of extreme views and positions but Aussies with different opinions have achieve consensus?

New study

Finding out why is the topic of a research project by Dominie Trescowthick, a post-graduate student in the School of Psychological Science at La Trobe University. Mark Farnworth at UniTec – a specialist in Animal Behaviour and Welfare – is helping to coordinate the survey in New Zealand.

You can participate in Dominie’s survey here. You can learn more about the project here.

survey“It’s a social problem with social solutions” – Mark Farnworth

“To me the debate about whether or not cats are a problem to wildlife is less interesting, and not nearly as important, as understanding peoples’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviours towards cats and wildlife”, says Mark.

I agree. There is sufficient ecological data to know that cats are a problem that requires our attention. Much more problematic is how to solve the problem because those solutions necessarily involve people and changing people’s behaviour.

It is unlikely that more ecological evidence will sway the people that need to be swayed. Most people are not persuaded by information. We are complex animals. Our behaviour is influenced by many things apparently rational and irrational. Our behaviour is often least changed by information, especially information contradicting our dearly held attitudes and beliefs.

The debate is a human conflict

Recognise that the debate about cats is not a contest between cats and wildlife. It is a conflict between people over wildlife – people with different Values, Attitudes, Beliefs and Behaviours. Those VABBs are also likely to be associated with differences in groups’ demography, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and education. We are a diverse community. We each have different priorities and care about different things. Get used to it if you want to solve a wildlife problem in human occupied landscapes, like cities.

Leadership by local government

Mark has a theory that if local government demonstrates leadership that it moderates extreme views and positions. In Australia local government has taken a role in discouraging colony care, helped institute cat curfews (cats in at night) and confinement (cats indoors). Mark is interested in the country comparison – “Maybe these force cat supporters and detractors to accept the legitimacy of the others’ values and engage in dialogue”

Whatever the truth, Dominie’s study promises to shed light on an important aspect of the cat-wildlife debate. Take a few moments to contribute to Dominie’s study by answering the survey here, and my rapid 6-question survey here.

Apparently, 800 kiwis have answered the survey to-date but more are need to ensure the survey captures the large variation in opinions – have your opinion heard.