‘Serial killer’ cats menace New Zealand wildlife

Domestic cats are among the most lethal creatures on the planet, slaughtering up to 20 billion animals every year. Now, a campaigner in New Zealand has a simple solution: get rid of them.

Every minute, two days’ worth of cat footage is uploaded onto Youtube. In London a respectable gallery is running an exhibition devoted to the ‘lolcats’ internet meme. Not since Ancient Egypt has kitty-worship been so widespread.

So when it comes to campaign slogans, “eradicate domestic cats” is no crowd pleaser. Yet that is exactly what economist Gareth Morgan is advocating: his ‘Cats To Go’ campaign urges pet owners in his native New Zealand to neuter their pets and ensure that they are never replaced.

Why? Because, says Morgan,“that little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer.” The feline invasion has already wiped out nine New Zealand bird species and helped to drive another 33 to the brink of extinction. It is not just birds who are threatened: in 2010, a single Kiwi cat was discovered to have killed 102 members of an endangered species of bat.

New Zealand is the most mog-loving country in the world, with roughly one cat for every three humans. And this invasive species, imported by European settlers, has caused havoc in an ecosystem where many animals have few natural predators. The island’s spectacularly diverse and unique wildlife makes it a paradise for nature-loving tourists – but also for bloodthirsty pets.

Though cats are particularly lethal in New Zealand, they wreak environmental havoc the world over. “We could be talking about 5, 10, 20 billion wildlife killed per year,” said a spokesperson for the American Bird Conservancy.

This should hardly come as a surprise: cats’ murderous habits are the reason they were first made welcome in human communities. That is thought to have happened around 12,000 years ago, when agricultural societies developed in the Middle East and rodents became a scourge as they feasted in storehouses full of grain. Cats were the solution.

Today, only a tiny proportion of cats are used for pest control – most are kept simply because pet owners find them cute and calming. Yet their killer instincts are as sharp as ever.

Purr-derer!

“Get rid of kitties?” say horrified cat-lovers. “Who could be so heartless?” Cats bring comfort and pleasure to millions, they say, asking nothing in return but a regular bowl of food. If they kill an occasional vole, we can hardly blame them: that’s just their natural instinct.

Yes, say conservationists – and that natural instinct makes them mass-murderers. Unleashing cats onto our fragile countryside is no different from slinging a gun over your shoulder and heading to the park to randomly slaughter endangered species. If you really want to bring a cat into your home, they say, then in your home it must stay: the moment it leaves the front door it becomes a monster.

You Decide

  1. Is it irresponsible to keep cats and allow them to roam outdoors?
  2. Is biodiversity important? Why?

Activities

  1. If cats could talk, what would they say? Write a diary entry from a feline perspective.
  2. In New Zealand, cats are classified as an ‘invasive species’. Write a brief definition of this term and describe one other example, and the effects it has had.

Some People Say...

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Wait. Is this guy actually saying I should kill my cat?
No. But he does want you to ensure that it never mates, and to ‘make this cat your last’.
Isn’t there another solution?
You could keep your cat indoors, although some pet owners feel that this denies the animal the stimulation it needs to be fulfilled. Alternatively, you could force it to wear an automatic alarm system (bells do not work) or a ‘cat bib’ to frustrate its hunting.
What about other pets?
Some dogs originally bred for guarding or hunting can be dangerously aggressive. Hamsters sometimes carry dangerous diseases. Carnivorous pets can consume huge quantities of meat, which has a real environmental toll. But when it comes to terrorising wildlife, nothing beats the humble housecat.

Word Watch

Ancient Egypt
In Ancient Egypt cats were venerated for their combination of grace and ferocity. Bastet, the popular goddess who protected against disease and other evils, was depicted with the head of a cat.
Neuter
To neuter an animal is to make it infertile by removing some or all of its reproductive organs.
Kiwi
Particularly vulnerable to cats are flightless birds, of which New Zealand has more than any other country. One of these is the long-billed, long-feathered kiwi, from which New Zealanders take their nickname.
Unique wildlife
New Zealand’s wildlife evolved in such profound isolation that not one of its native mammals, amphibians and reptiles can be found anywhere else in the world.
Made welcome
To say that cats were ‘domesticated’ is slightly misleading: they started living among humans of their own accord, attracted by waste food and the rodents that fed on it. Many such wild cats still live in urban environments today: ‘feral’ cats are not necessarily descended from domesticated animals.
Cute and calming
Experiments have shown that stroking cats can lower blood pressure and trigger the release of endorphins, which ease stress and cause pleasure.

Subjects

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