Conservation organisation Southern Lakes Sanctuary is calling on the government to include feral cats in its Predator Free 2050 strategy.
Southern Lakes Sanctuary project director Paul Kavanagh said more than 2.5 million feral cats are now in New Zealand and the number continues to rise every week.
The pests are a significant threat to the country’s native bird life and are responsible for the extinction of native birds including the Stephen Island wren, and endangering iconic Kiwi birds such as the kea.
Kavanagh said urgent funding is required to humanely control the pests, which are now at record highs throughout the country. The non-profit charitable organisation is facing a funding cliff of June 2024.
“The reproductive potential of a single female cat is estimated at 300 kittens in her reproductive lifetime,” Kavanagh said.
“This means the feral cat population is increasing significantly every week, and we need to ramp up our efforts to control these populations to save our native taonga species.”
The government has confirmed that a review of the Predator Free 2050 strategy will take place in 2024 under public consultation.
The inclusion of feral cats would generate more funding to enable Southern Lakes Sanctuary to increase resources and continue its conservation work, said Kavanagh.
The Southern Lakes Sanctuary humanely captures and dispatches feral cats in the Southern Lakes region.
The feral cat population is self-sustaining – it does not rely on humans to survive and the animals are generally in remote areas.
Male feral cats captured in the South Island high country usually weigh about 3.75kg but can weigh up to 10kg.
“It’s important to distinguish the difference between types of cats,” said Kavanagh.
“We are absolutely not talking about domestic, companion cats here, or stray cats, which depend on ad-hoc human interaction. We are trying to decrease the widespread population of wild, feral cats, which are destroying our endangered birds and reptiles.”
He said that the Southern Lakes Sanctuary is careful not to endanger any domestic cats and updates in technology make this possible.
“Some of our traps have a daytime excluder to reduce the likelihood of catching pets, and we are investigating getting a microchip feature, which would override the trap if detected,” he said.
“We also focus on live trapping to mitigate the potential risk to companion cats, and we meet with local homeowners to see what their companion cats look like. However, we are trapping in remote areas where the risk of encountering a companion cat is extremely low.”