Calls for tighter cat control after cat devours 28 native lizards

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Scientists are calling for stricter cat management regulations after a cat kills and ate large numbers of native lizards in central Otago.

Alexandra resident Joe Sherriff was walking his dog on the outskirts of the township when he saw something shining in front of him.

“I took a closer look and realized it was a bunch of dead lizards.”

Sherriff spread them out and counted them. There were 28 lizards, a mix of McCann’s skinks and shale geckos.

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He contacted Dr Grant Norbury, a wildlife ecologist at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, who specializes in predator-prey dynamics.

“Since this was a nice bunch of lizards, with missing tails and puncture wounds, it looked like a cat had regurgitated its meal. Cats are known to spit food out if they have done too much, ”said Norbury.

A bunch of native lizards that were probably regurgitated by a cat on the outskirts of Alexandra in central Otago.

Supplied / Joe Sherriff

A bunch of native lizards that were probably regurgitated by a cat on the outskirts of Alexandra in central Otago.

Norbury sent the photos to several of his colleagues for their opinion, including herpetologist Dr James Reardon, science adviser in the Department of Conservation (DOC). “It immediately looked like a cat regurgitation to me, as the smaller predators chew on their prey more,” Reardon said.

Herpetologists Dr. Rod Hitchmough of DOC and Carey Knox of Wildlands Consultants agreed it was regurgitation by the cat.

The fact that the lizards were only digested very little showed that they had all been eaten within a few hours. Likewise, large numbers of lizards have been found in the stomachs of wild cats in the past.

Professor Yolanda van Heezik, an urban ecologist at the University of Otago, said it was possible that the cat in question was someone’s pet cat given the lizards were found around 400m from the lodging.

Tracking studies show that pet cats roam about three acres in the middle of the suburbs, and even further on the outskirts of town.

One cat had eaten and then regurgitated 21 McCann's skinks and seven shale geckos.

Joe Sherriff / Supplied

One cat had eaten and then regurgitated 21 McCann’s skinks and seven shale geckos.

“Cat predation on our native wildlife is a very difficult problem, because cats are such important pets to many people,” says Norbury.

“A lot of people don’t think their cats are a problem. They think feral cats do this damage, and not their pet cats. But they do. They have the same instinct, they are hunters.

“Whether the culprit is a wild cat or a domestic cat, we must recognize that domestic cats are part of the problem for our wildlife. “

Reardon said many people don’t know that Aotearoa has some of the “most fascinating and diverse lizard faunas on the planet” with over 120 native lizard species.

“But about a quarter are critically endangered or nationally, which means they are at imminent risk of extinction. And almost all of them are threatened to some extent.

New Zealand is quite unusual in that we allow our cats to roam largely freely. “In Australia it is more socially accepted to keep cats indoors and not to chase them. And in large parts of America it’s the same, ”says Reardon.

Van Heezik agrees. “It’s like they’re decades ahead of us in terms of thinking about cats. We must embark on this journey.

Native lizards that have been regurgitated by a wild or domestic cat on the outskirts of Alexandra in central Otago.

Anna Yeoman / Supplied

Native lizards that have been regurgitated by a wild or domestic cat on the outskirts of Alexandra in central Otago.

She said she was not suggesting that people should not have cats, but rather manage them in a way that reduces damage to vulnerable wildlife. “In the end, it would be better if people contained their chats 24/7.”

This can be inside the house or in a “catio”, a type of outdoor enclosure common in North America and Australia.

“It’s not just lizards around Central Otago, it’s also birds and invertebrates. And it’s all across the country, in our big cities too, ”says Norbury.

“We have a real problem, we have to change the way we manage our cats.”


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