New Zealand Crusade Enrages Cat Lovers

Cat lovers think Gareth Morgan's plan is for the birds. And it is, literally. The economist, philanthropist, adventurer and author is leading a campaign to eradicate all domestic cats from New Zealand. In terms of conservation, he's got an undeniably sound point.

Besides, Morgan is advocating that everyone spay or neuter their cats so they won't reproduce, not that they pack them into a pillowcase and bung them in the nearest river. Not so extreme, after all.

But still, making a website called Cats to Go, calling your cat a "natural born killer", isn't likely to win any support among crazy cat people, or cat-crazy people, for that matter. The campaign does make other, inoffensive and practical solutions like putting a bell on your cat and keeping it inside. Not much fun for the cat, but better for birds and bats. Check out the info graphic here.

However, people love cats. Cats are lovable. No way a country like New Zealand, where half of all households have a cat, is going to give them up, much less kill them all. The head of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is quoted in the New Zealand Herald:

"People consider cats to be a member of the family. So he's trying to, quite frankly, take away the civil liberties we all have to choose who we want in our home. So now it's a civil liberty issue. Tantamount to saying, 'I want a cat no matter what it kills or how much damage it inflicts on the local ecosystem.' Not very sympathetic either.

The issue is pitting some conservationists against some old school animal lovers. Some also argue that cats kill rats, another numerous invasive (and damaging) species. Yet Morgan cites research showing that cats, specifically, kill at least 13 native animals each year. He said the figure was unacceptable in a country where many bird species had already been wiped out and 37 percent of those that remain, such as the flightless kiwi, are endangered because of introduced predators.

There is an historical precedent as well. Take the story of the Stephen Island Wren, a flightless, nocturnal bird that was wiped out by domestic and feral cats in around 16 years. Only after the Wren was extinct did anyone take action against the cats. The lighthouse keeper, the sole inhabitant of the New Zealand island, shot over 100 of them. Sounds more like revenge of the Wren than conservation.

Unfortunately we can't hit "restart" and just get rid of all the invasive species that humans have brought throughout the world ever since they started paddling in canoes. After all, at the risk of sounding trite, we're the most damaging, invasive species of all. Anyone want to get rid of themselves? Thought not.

(Reprinted with permission from Asian Correspondent, for which Graham Land blogs)