New Zealand may declare a war on cats

May 15, 2013

A stray cat strolls across a cricket field during a major match as a New Zealand player watches. (Lakruwan WanniarachchiAFP/Getty Images)

Environmentalists in peaceful, pacifist New Zealand are going to war against cats, launching a plan to end feline presence on their island-chain nation once and for all. Both pets and strays, they warn, are threatening the country's delicate and famously beautiful ecosystem. The Washington Post's Karla Adams reports from the front lines:

The charge is being led by Gareth Morgan, a nationally renowned economist-turned-environmental-activist, who has dubbed cats “natural born killers” that are menacing the native bird population and bringing some to the verge of extinction. ...

The mere suggestion of a feline-free nation is raising the dander of cat lovers of every stripe, with everyone from the prime minister to animal-welfare activists calling Morgan a kitty hater of the worst sort.

The New Zealand government is taking the proposal seriously enough that they commissioned a study to estimate its cost: $20 billion.

Morgan and other environmentalists backing the controversial plan point out that New Zealand's fauna developed in the absence of cats or other large-mammal predators. Flightless birds such as the kiwi, a national symbol, are being devastated by the newly arrived cats, as are flighted birds. New Zealanders, Adams's story makes clear, really, really love birds, so they might be unusually receptive to giving up their cats.

There's some precedent for this sort of effort: The country spent half a million dollars over two years to eradicate possums from a small New Zealand island.

Morgan is pushing for a sort of pilot program on Stewart Island, population 402, to create a cat-free zone. Although current cat owners wouldn't have to give up their pets, they would be forbidden from replacing them. Current cat owners would also have to neuter the animals and keep them indoors or leashed (have you ever tried to put a cat on a leash?) at all times. It's not clear what would happen to strays, but one imagines it's unpleasant.

For the moment, though, the plan is just hypothetical. New Zealand is not yet at war with cats.

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Max Fisher | May 15, 2013