Calls to mandate cat registration, de-sexing to protect wildlife

Cat, file

Advocates are calling for a tightening of rules around cats, to control booming numbers and the devastating impact on native species.

Erica Rowlands, who recently spoke to her petition to mandate registration and de-sexing of cats and kittens (unless owned by a registered breeder), told MPs that it was important to recognise that cat control is "controversial and for all the right reasons, there's passionate people on all sides".

"We are all aware of just the damage cats can do and something needs to be done there," she said.

"It is widely known that cats cause a problem for native species, and that rescue groups face a relentless battle against the effects of irresponsible owners.

"We have committed as a nation to invest in the goal of being predator free by 2050, but with no improvement in sight for the management of pet cats, or the elimination of feral populations. Requiring cats to be registered and de-sexed will reduce their populations, enforce responsible cat ownership and protect our wildlife."

Jessi Morgan of Predator Free NZ said compulsory microchipping and de-sexing of cats is essential, pushing further for national cat legislation, similar to that of the Dog Control Act.

She said to "make any meaningful difference we do need to look at legislation and policy to consider the three categories of cats" - that being feral, stray and companion cats.

"What we're currently doing isn't working and our biodiversity is suffering.

Cat shelters are overrun, under resourced and completely unregulated.

—  Jessi Morgan of Predator Free NZ

"If humans don't control their numbers, nothing will. They can thrive, from alpine down to sea level."

Morgan said the major players "are in agreement on this and there is a call for this legislation to be progressed nationally", so councils and territorial authorities have a clear guidance.

Christine Sumner of the SPCA said New Zealand's "ad hoc management of cats is ineffective and inhumane".

To put it bluntly – we need national cat legislation.

—  Dr Christine Sumner - SPCA

"There are gaps in responsible cat ownership resulting in problems with both welfare and cat over population."

She said SPCA centres regularly see welfare problems related to these gaps.

On average they take in about 25,000 cats and kittens a year, representing three quarters of all the animals the take in.

Cat dumping

Forest and Bird regional conservation manager Amelia Geary said 'cat dumping' was in a serious problem.

It was obvious when cats are dumped, she said, because they're skinny and stressed.

"Not only is this cruel and illegal, it is entirely preventable with better regulation."

She called the management of companion cats "fragmented, inconsistent, difficult to enforce and patchily applied throughout the country".

READ: Pet cat in Waikato behind six deaths of native NZ bats - DOC

Department of Conservation's Michelle Crowell said mandating registration and de-sexing would be an important step forward in minimising the impacts of cats on our protected wildlife.

"The management of New Zealand's cat population, both feral and domestic, is a critical issue."


Conservation Minister Poto Williams said there was more work to be done in supporting responsible cat ownership.

"There's lots more we can do as responsible cat owners to ensure we do what we can to protect our biodiversity, our birds in particular."

She said the proposal to mandate microchipping and de-sexing was not unreasonable.

"I would certainly be keen to look at that."

Former Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan, who had begun looking at the rules around cats in June after ACT in Australia rolled out rules around keeping some cats indoors, posted on Facebook about the issue.

"In NZ there's a pretty frank view expressed by many, DON'T TALK ABOUT CATS despite the fact we know there is a biodiversity crisis," Allan wrote.

On Thursday, Allan said "we need to be open minded in all avenues that we can do to ensure we protect the taonga species we have left here in Aotearoa".

A spokesperson for Ministry for Primary Industries said it was not working on legislation around cats, but in its evidence to the Environment Select Committee it had consulted with Tasmanian officials over its cat management law of microchipping and de-sexing.

"Tasmanian officials note that the effectiveness of the approach is reliant not only on the enactment of legislation, but also in the provision of resourcing and ongoing funding to enforce the provisions of the legislation over time."