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New Zealand conservationists want to protect birds from predator: cats

Posted at 7:29 PM, Feb 20, 2023

Conservationists and lawmakers in New Zealand are looking at the way people keep their cats, as the felines have become a top predator for the country's diverse wild bird population.

The island nation at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean was once a haven for birds which faced no known apex predators, the BBC noted. One species, the Lyall's wren, was fairly safe as a flightless bird. As new species of potential predators were introduced by boats and travelers, like the Polynesian rat, the birds faced danger.

That predator was enough to wipe out most of the bird's population. Then cats were introduced by humans and that wiped out the rest of the bird's population.

It's just one example of the type of conservation that New Zealand's Predator Free 2050 campaign focuses on. Many predators arementioned in the plan, except one animal: feral cats.

Reports estimate that as many as 2.5 million cats are considered feral in New Zealand, and there has been a plan in place to try and control this population in the coming years.

Now authorities and experts in the country are looking to create legislation that would enforce the management of cats.

The BBC reported that nearly half of all households in New Zealand have at least one cat, making the country one of the highest in the world for cat ownership. But, many in New Zealand let cats roam free.

The group Predator Free New Zealand Trust says many flightless birds in New Zealand are made vulnerable by the cat population.

Feral cats have even been blamed for contributing to the death of some of New Zealand's indigenous dolphinspecies by spreading toxiplasma, or toxo — a parasite carried by feral cats.

Conservation groups want to be clear, they are not pushing for a ban on domestic cats or for owners to give up their pets. They are pushing for legislation to control feral cat populations.

A petition for a cat act is currently being considered by New Zealand's parliament.