Tackle the feral cats that prey on the endangered kea

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“Some people try to say that cats will be a natural part of our landscape.  But if we want our native species to survive, we can't allow that, ”said Tamsin Orr-Walker, chairman of the Kea Conservation Trust.

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“Some people try to say that cats will be a natural part of our landscape. But if we want our native species to survive, we can’t allow that, ”said Tamsin Orr-Walker, chairman of the Kea Conservation Trust.

While possums, rats and stoats have taken center stage in our bid for a predator-free Aotearoa, there is less recognition of our wildcat problem, says one conservationist.

Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) Chairman Tamsin Orr-Walker is behind an effort to control feral cats in Nelson Lakes National Park as part of a cutting edge trapping initiative which has been successful across the country.

In collaboration with the Department of Conservation and the Friends of Rotoiti, KCT set up 20 live traps near known nesting sites around Lake Rotoiti.

Using satellite technology, the traps, which are baited with dried rabbit meat, send a signal when triggered, alerting surveillance teams.

ANNA YEOMAN / SUPPLIED

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

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Monitors need to act fast: Big enough to trap a cat, the kea can get into the traps, although that hasn’t happened yet, Orr-Walker said.

Since the traps were installed in August, around seven cats have been trapped, along with a number of possums.

Cats can travel long distances and hunt chicks and adult birds, she said. While cats have often been spotted in the native bush near built-up areas and farmland, they are increasingly common.

Kea are intelligent and curious birds, but they are also endangered, so protecting them is a priority.

Iain McGregor / Stuff

Kea are intelligent and curious birds, but they are also endangered, so protecting them is a priority.

Recently a cat was sighted on the Milford Track, Orr-Walker said.

“The Milford Trail is considered the last bastion of our wilderness, untouched by predators. But they are there.

The KCT has not endorsed community groups with “trap, sterilize, return” initiatives that release feral cats.

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A cat was captured picking up a ringed deer from a nest in South Bay, Kaikōura (first published October 2020).

“For groups that do a lot of trapping work, it is soul destroying to see this happening, there is no place for feral cats in our wilderness.”

Although Orr-Walker was accused of being an enemy of cats, that was not correct, she said.

“It’s not their fault; it’s us. [Some] people are trying to say that cats will be a natural part of our landscape. But if we want our native species to survive, we can’t allow that. “

It's an awkward conversation, but if the goal is to be predator-free, it's a conversation that must take place.  (File photo)

Manja Vitolic / Unsplash

It’s an awkward conversation, but if the goal is to be predator-free, it’s a conversation that must take place. (File photo)

The discussion of what New Zealand’s lack of predators looked like in terms of cats was a delicate one, she said.

“But this is a conversation that must take place if we are to save our native species.”

The KCT’s work in Nelson Lakes began in 2009 with a three-year survey of the local kea population, Orr-Walker said.

Cats are known to travel great distances, and one of them was recently spotted in Milford Sound.  (File photo)

Great South

Cats are known to travel great distances, and one of them was recently spotted in Milford Sound. (File photo)

Their findings have alarmed the conservation world. Kea, who was believed to be relatively immune to predation, has lost around 80% of her numbers since the 1990s, she said.

The ground-nesting parrot is now recognized as being in serious decline, with between 3,000 and 7,000 remaining across the country.

KCT is raising funds to increase its trapping network in Nelson Lakes. You can donate via Give a little.

RNZ

According to new research from the UK, domestic cats seem to hunt less when their diets are higher in animal protein, says Professor Robbie McDonald, lead author of the study.


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