Releasing feral cats to rural properties to manage pests in Queenstown has been called a “disaster” by Predator Free New Zealand.
QT Community Cats – which provides rescue, adoption and rehousing services for cats – is testing a program where feral cats are trapped, deexed and released on rural properties to manage rabbit and rodent populations.
Its trustee secretary, Mel Gold, said the goal was to help prevent a boom in feral cat breeding, while using cats to fight other pests.
However, the program has sparked criticism and concerns about the impact it could have on native wildlife.
Predator Free New Zealand chief executive Jessi Morgan called the program “misguided.”
She said cats have a major impact on endangered and native species, many of which Otago is home to, including birds and lizards.
“There seems to be a misunderstanding about the predator-prey relationship. It will really have an impact on local biodiversity.”
Cats could also transmit the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis, to sheep.
Infection can cause reproductive problems.
“[The programme] is a bit of a disaster in every way, to be honest. “
Morgan said not having clear guidelines for managing cats, regionally or nationally, was also part of the problem.
She wanted the group to stop the program and advise owners of adopted cats to keep them at home.
Andrea Howard, environmental implementation manager for the Otago Regional Council, said the council had received two inquiries, as well as about seven social media posts, about the program.
The council had no regulatory power over pest control methods, but there were concerns.
The Grand and Otago skink populations were at extremely low levels in central Otago, mainly due to predation by cats, she said.
“Wild cats have a major impact on native and non-native New Zealand species.
“They feed on rabbits, birds and bird eggs, rats, hares, bats, lizards, mice, weta and other insects.”
Wildcat rules were in place for site-led programs on the Otago Peninsula, West Harbor-Mt Cargill, and Quarantine and Goat Islands.
But there were no rules for managing feral cats outside of those three areas, Howard said.
QT Community Cats did not respond to requests for comment on the review.