Wellington volunteers call on cat owners to keep pets at home to protect local birds

A group of Wellington volunteers is calling on cat owners to keep their pets at home, after one wiped out an entire local population of dotterels.

Council bylaws to control cats are ad hoc and advocates want a nationwide policy to curb their right to roam.

Cats may have nine lives, but sadly the dotterels in Eastbourne do not. 

"Here it's been devastating. The last two years we've got pictures of domestic cats eating the eggs, eating the chicks, and we can't do anything about it. There's no law to say, 'hey, keep your cats inside at night'," says Parker Jones, a volunteer for the Mainland Island Restoration Operation.

With the help of local scouts, the group is urging owners to keep their cats inside from dusk to dawn to protect the vulnerable birds.

"Last year we had one pair who re-nested three times. It was really depressing for the volunteers to see the eggs just being eaten from those three nest sites," Jones says. 

But that's the extent of their powers - there is no bylaw in the Hutt City for cat control.

The law around controlling cats is murky. For regional councils it comes under the pest management plan, but for city councils it's tricky. They have to create a bylaw, then within that bylaw decide whether they want to control de-sexing, microchipping, the number of cats per household, or have a cat curfew. 

Palmerston North has the strictest bylaw, including a three-cat limit per household.

But policies vary across the country and with 220 cats per square kilometre in urban areas, that's bad news for wildlife.

"You hear these stories of these domestic cats wandering at will and wiping out whole colonies of species," says Jessi Morgan from the Predator Free NZ Trust.

Predator Free is one of several organisations calling for a blanket law for cat control in New Zealand, as there is for dogs.

"A lot of prelim work has been done. We now need government to take that and run with it," Morgan says.

Hutt City Council, which covers Eastbourne, is considering a bylaw.

"These things have to be debated in the council chamber, it's really up to the community what ends up happening and the way that we control cats," says Helen Oram from the Hutt City Council.

And until those cats are under control, community groups feel it is up to them to protect their local birds.