Environmentalists call on Government to establish nationwide cat control laws

Some environmentalists are calling for the Government to establish a national Cat Management Act and include feral cats in our ambitious Predator Free 2050 strategy.

It follows anecdotal evidence suggesting cats are doing more damage to our native wildlife than ever before and climate change is partly to blame.

Kiwis have a longstanding love affair with cats. Collectively we own 1.2 million of them and have the highest cat ownership rate in the world.

"It's complex isn't it because cats here in New Zealand are both a beloved companion animal but they do also have an impact potentially on wildlife," said SPCA scientific officer Dr Alison Vaughan.

They're estimated to kill at least 1.12 million native birds a year, helping to push some species towards extinction. A recent study found feral cats are responsible for around 50 percent of kea deaths.

It's not just feral cats in the wild. Professor of ecology Dr Margaret Stanley said we can't underestimate the impact of roaming neighbourhood cats.

"I've had cameras set up at my house since March last year and since then I've been able to identify 18 different cats, very different cats, from their coat patterns and their size."

The debate about cats isn't a new one. Former politician Gareth Morgan famously launched a hardline campaign against domestic cats. While it wasn't popular a decade ago, the conversation about the apex predators has since been gaining traction - including calls on the Government to centralise how they're managed.

"This ad hoc system in New Zealand with different councils and different bylaws which may or may not mention cats is really not effective and not humane," Dr Vaughan said.

Predator Free Trust CEO Jessi Morgan is calling for an overarching national Cat Management Act.

"At the moment cats are a grey area, so if cats are coming into your property there's very little you can do."

And cats have been left off New Zealand's ambitious Pest Free 2050 plan. But she hopes that'll change.

"I think as we mature in our conversation around responsible cat ownership in New Zealand then they will be added," Morgan added.

Until then, the SPCA recommends cats are kept indoors at night to curb their hunting.

"Responsible cat ownership can go a long way. That includes things like desexing, microchipping and registering your pet."

So we can continue owning our beloved cats and save our native species.