ES looks to continue island’s cat project

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Stewart Island residents can own a cat as long as it is de-sexed and microchipped.

IN an attempt to help Stewart Island cat owners, Environment Southland (ES) will pay costs to conform to a new pest plan.

Introduced last year, the Southland regional pest management plan allowed for the island’s residents to own a cat as long as it was de-sexed and microchipped.

Environment Southland biosecurity and biodiversity operations manager Ali Meade said it would work with the community.

“We know most people who keep domestic cats on Rakiura are responsible pet owners, and we want to support the community to continue doing the right thing.

“At the start of the year we had plans to get in touch with Stewart Island residents to discuss the best ways to implement our rules, and offer opportunities to have domestic cats de-sexed and microchipped for free.”

The Covid-19 lockdown “put a spanner in the works”, but as the bird-breeding season had now arrived and travel was slowly returning to normal, ES was looking to continue the project as soon as possible.

Rules around de-sexing and microchipping domestic cats on Stewart Island had been in place since 2002, with the intent to reduce the risk of interbreeding between domestic and feral cats.

Ms Meade said it was important for people to understand domestic cats were different from feral cats.

“Domestic cats are pet cats that are owned by a specific person, and are directly dependent on humans. In contrast, feral cats are unowned, unsocialised, and have no relationship with or dependence on humans.

“Feral cats are expert hunters with acute senses, and known to breed prolifically. Any feral cat that’s been trapped should be destroyed,” Ms Meade said.

Feral cats were a managed pest in the Southland regional pest management plan, which describes them as “the ultimate predators” in New Zealand, killing birds, bats, lizards, weta and other insects. They were not allowed to be kept or rehomed because of the risk of them interbreeding with domestic cats.

Department of Conservation Murihiku office senior ranger community Phillip Melgren gave a verbal report to Environment Southland councillors at a committee meeting last week. He said people had the perception feral cats were mangy and small.

“They’re not. They can be massive.”

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