Allow us to state the obvious: New Zealanders love their kiwis. The fluffy, flightless birds and their relatives have become powerful symbols of the nation’s unique wildlife. Unfortunately, a lot of these birds are also on their way to extinction. To combat that, the New Zealand government has announced a drastic plan: They intend save the kiwis, tuataras, kakapos, and their kin by killing all off predators. Well, almost all of them. The list of undesirables, which includes possums, stoats, and rats, is missing one obvious culprit: house cats.
Addressing the press, Prime Minister John Key noted that predation has outstripped poaching and deforestation as the greatest threat to native wildlife. (New Zealand had virtually no mammal predators before humans introduced them.) “Rats, possums, and stoats kill 25 million of our native birds every year and prey on other native species such as lizards, and, along with the rest of our environment, we must do more to protect them,” he said in a press statement.
The goal, Key said, was to eradicate every rat, stoat, and possum in the country by the year 2050. To get the program up and running, the government has invested NZ$28 million in a company called Predator Free New Zealand Limited, on top of the $60 to $80 million it already spends on predator eradication every year.
“We know the goal we have announced today is ambitious, but we are ambitious for New Zealand,” Key said.
Ambitious or not, experts say, the plan will likely not succeed unless it’s expanded to include the management of pet cats. New Zealanders have the highest rates of cat ownership in the world, and those cats are keeping themselves busy. Study after study has shown the damage that cats can do to wildlife around the world. They’ve already been responsible for the extinction of nine bird species and are driving many others in the same direction.
Just last year, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry urged her government to consider more aggressive methods of keeping cats in check, but her prime minister—a loud and proud cat owner—would hear nothing of it.
“Some people are going to have lots of cats and some people are going to have few,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “The government isn't going to limit the number of cats people can own."
Lest you think he’s a total softie, this cat amnesty does have conditions: Only felines with loving owners need apply. “If you’re asking about Moonbeam, Moonbeam is safe,” Key told the press. “If you’re asking about feral cats … then their time is limited.”
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