'Cats are predators': New Zealand town wants to ban feline pets

Locals in Omaui are hoping to ban new domestic cats, and for strays to be euthanized, in a radical effort to protect its wildlife.

Locals in Omaui want existing cats neutered and strays euthanized

A small village on the southern coast of New Zealand has proposed cat owners neuter, microchip and register their cats with local authorities in a radical effort to protect its wildlife. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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For some, cats are the best of company — a soft little pal to cuddle up with while avoiding the world. 

To others, cats — even domestic ones — are irredeemable killers, out to hunt and destroy valued local fauna.

That line of thinking has inspired an initiative to eradicate all cats in the small New Zealand town of Omaui. Locals are hoping to ban the acquisition of any new domestic cats, and for strays to be euthanized.

"Cats eat the birds, they eat the lizards, and the insects," said John Collins, who is championing Omaui's proposed cat-ban, "Cats are predators."

Collins spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the initiative.

A Scottish Fold cat is pictured during a cat exhibition in Bishkek on March 20, 2016. (VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images)

Why would you want to phase out your village's cats?

Omaui is a small village of 30 to 35 houses with a similar number of people. And behind the village is a relatively large area about 240 hectares of virgin native forest. So Omaui is a high-value conservation area, it's wildlife rich. And we want it to be wildlife richer — [a] high-value conservation area that people can live in.

But not cats?

Well, cats are predators. Cats eat the birds, they eat the lizards and the insects. And we're not cat-haters. It's about responsible ownership and Omaui is a place where pets shouldn't be taken.

So what is your proposal to deal with the cat?

Our proposal is to have existing domestic cats micro-chipped and de-sexed. And upon death, they can't be replaced, and no new cats can be brought in. So we're not trying to take people's cats off them, we just want them to be gradually phased out.

Now you are not part of the council that made this decision but you did have to persuade them. Was it a difficult process?

Environment Southland every 10 years [does] what they call a "pest control strategy." Any member of the public can put up an idea or something for pest control and the working party will look at it, and if they think it's reasonable, they'll accept it for consideration. So that's what happened to us.

And cats are defined as pests in the strategy?

In this case they're "predators," yes. So it's now up for public consultation.

You're talking about as a small community. Do you know how many domestic cats there are?

Possibly seven or eight. Couldn't be sure on that. Maybe one or two more.

A 9-week-old male Bobcat plays with a toy in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/ San Francisco Zoo/Getty Images)

Do you want them micro-chipped, spayed or neutered and then you don't want them replaced?

That's correct. The reason we want them micro-chipped is because we have a problem with people dumping unwanted cats, unwanted kittens and cats, and also there's a population of feral cats — which are really just domesticated that nobody looks after. When we're trapping feral cats, if we catch somebody's domestic cat we don't want to kill it, we would give it back to them.

If it wasn't micro-chipped it would be euthanized?

Euthanized humanely.

Have you lost friends? Are you having trouble in the community?

I haven't lost friends, no. I think most people, a substantial number at least, support us. There are one or two that are against us, but I certainly wouldn't fall-out with my good friends over an idea.

A lot of people around the world love their cat. They get a lot of affection from them. It's a comfort to them.

That's correct, a lot of people do. A lot of us also get much comfort from having native birds swarming around us.

Have you ever had a cat?

Yes. Just about every household in New Zealand has had a cat. I grew up with a cat in the house.

How would you feel if someone had come up with this rule when you had your cat?

I don't know, it would depend on the reasons.

What do you hope the outcome will be for native wildlife in your area?

I hope there's more and more native wildlife. I want to hear more bird songs in the morning.

This segment was produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A was shortened for clarity and length. 

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