Cats of New Zealand. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
In an interview that appeared in the Atlantic on Thursday, prominent economist and environmentalist Gareth Morgan said that he hopes residents in his native New Zealand will not only neuter their pet kitties but will also start turning over strays to local authorities for euthanization.
As the New York Times noted earlier this week, Morgan has ignited a controversy in New Zealand and elsewhere with his suggestion that cats should be gradually eradicated from his country. Morgan claims that the feline is a "friendly neighborhood serial killer" that poses a serious threat to New Zealand's native birds and other animal species.
Morgan's website "Cats To Go" explains that New Zealand has one of the highest cat ownership rates on the planet and that these animals have already "contributed to the extinction of 9 native bird species." He also says that cats have had a negative impact on dozens of other endangered bird species.
Morgan's proposal may sound startling, but perhaps he's on to something. The Associated Press reports that "[f]or thousands of years, New Zealand's native birds had no predators and flourished," but that humans, their household pets and the vermin that infest populated areas are now threatening the country's avian inhabitants. "[T]he arrival of mankind and its introduction of predators like cats, dogs and rodents have wiped out some native bird species altogether and endangered many others," writes the AP.
To combat this, Morgan has suggested that cat owners should neuter their cats and not replace them when they die. He also says that people should keep their cats indoors and that registration of them should be made mandatory.
In his interview with the Atlantic this week, Morgan took an even more extreme stance, saying that citizens should set up "cage-traps" on their properties to catch wandering cats. He added that these animals should then be turned over to a local authority, which would euthanize the animals if they were found to be unregistered.
Morgan also said that the government should "offer free disposal of cats," as vets can be "prohibitively expensive." Neutering, he insisted, is simply not enough.
"Neutered cats still kill for pleasure," he said.
As might be expected, Morgan's suggestions have triggered a firestorm of negative backlash.
Bob Kerridge, president of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the New Zealand Herald that he finds Morgan's logic to be "a bit radical, over the top and completely wrong," stressing that he's skeptical of the economist's research. According to the AP, other experts have also argued that cats may actually "help native birds by reducing the population of rodents, which sometimes feed on bird eggs."
Still, Morgan is not alone in his beliefs.
Greg Presland, a New Zealand cat owner who lives in the sub-tropical Auckland region of the Waitakere Ranges, said that he's been swayed by the environmentalist's campaign."Gareth has a point in advocating that we rethink our pet choices," Presland wrote on his blog. "I do not have the inclination to euthanize [my cat] but I think that he should be our last... We live in a subtropical rainforest that I care deeply about and have spent much time working to protect. My cat is killing birdlife which is an integral and important part of the ecosystem."
Scientist David Winter also agreed that cats are "indeed a problem in New Zealand," and are a threat to the country's avian diversity. However, Winter wrote on his blog that, while Morgan's campaign may have "start[ed] conversations," his tactic may be doing more harm than good. "What hope is there for environmentalists in conversation where our side wants to take people's kittens away?" he asked.