Lisa Owen: It was 2013 when Gareth Morgan rubbed cat lovers up the wrong way.
Gareth Morgan: My request of every cat owner in New Zealand is to make this cat your last.
Morgan described cats as serial killers, and notably, of our native birds, and sparked a fierce feline debate. Now, in the past few months, he's been doing some research in Auckland. Four cameras were moved around 20 properties over 388 days and nights revealing cats on the prowl trespassing in someone else's garden 694 times, or about twice a day. Gareth Morgan is in our Wellington studio. Good morning, Mr Morgan.
What did the cameras actually show?
Well, what we've done here is just repeated a study we did in Wellington a couple of years ago, where we just put a camera that's triggered… a motion-trigger camera on a person's section – so it didn't cover the whole section; it was just one camera per section – and then just rolled them for a week or two to see how many home invasions, if you like, there were by cats. I remember when I did it in my own property in the centre of Wellington a while ago in that first study. On the first night, I got nine different cats coming across the property. So when you average it all out, we get about two, two cats, per 24 hours, day and night, coming through people's property. Now, remember, we're not covering the whole property – just one part of it – so when you multiple that up by the number of houses, it works out… In Wellington's case, it was 40 million cat invasions per year, and in Auckland, it's 300 million.
In terms of the footage that you got this time round in Auckland, was there any evidence of killings – of these cats killing?
No, cos the shots we were taking were snapshots, so I'm talking about home invasions rather than the actual act of killing wildlife. There's lots of studies being done on killing wildlife. I wasn't about that. I was just trying to find out how many cats in these urban areas are actually wandering, and of course, by far, the bulk of them are domestic cats, which we can see in the photos through collars and other identification. It works out about 25 times… Cats come across your property in a ratio of 25 to one to all other invaders combined – that's dogs, hedgehogs, rats.
You use the phrase 'home invasion', making it sound terribly dramatic, but just to be clear, this is just cats wandering through other people's property, isn't it? What's the problem?
Yeah, that's right. Oh, well, the problem is, apart from the invasion of privacy and the fact they defecate and spread toxoplasmosis … The problem I'm mostly concerned about, of course, is all these efforts that councils and citizens are making to bring wildlife back into the urban environments to put us in touch with our, you know, natural heritage. Why are we wasting all that money when we've the biggest predator of all this wildlife is cats? And we've got a study at the moment in Wellington, for example, where we've actually got a live cam on a kaka nest, and that kaka nest has got three birds in it at the moment, three chicks. They're about to fledge. They will fledge next week, by the look of it. And we've got cameras all around that nest outside as well, not just in the nest, and they've just picked up hordes of domestic cats around. The cats are going mad with these birds in there. They just want to get at them and kill them. So the big question next week will be – when these kaka fledge, and they come out, and they flop around on the ground trying to learn how to fly, will they survive? My bet is they won't. That's the issue.
Studies have also shown, haven't they, that cats carry out a role of killing the likes of rodents and other animals that prey on native birds as well? So they have a positive effect too.
They do. They are responsible for under 20 percent of killing other bird killers, put it that way. And also, of course, we have techniques. My point, really, is – why are we bothering with all these other methods of trying to control these other predators and letting cats off scot-free? I mean, we've got a dog act that looks after dogs, and people have to keep their dog on a leash and all the rest of it. We need something similar in terms of controlling wandering cats. Now, what's coming up…
Ok. Well, what do you want, then, Mr Morgan? You talk about the example of dogs there, so what is this shown that we need, in your view, in terms of cats? Do we need to microchip all cats? Do we need to register them? What would you like to see? Cat curfew?
No. I think it's just micro-chipping and registering cats so that when cats are picked up, the authorities can actually do something with them. You know, in the case that they're registered, obviously, they go back to the owner, but in the case that they're not, they're just treated the same as dogs would be treated – they're destroyed, because they're pests, basically. So it's not really a campaign, this, against companion cats, not at all. It's trying to get responsible cat ownership so that cats and wildlife can coexist in the urban environment, and I would've thought it's a no-brainer.
But the thing is even if the cats are wandering round and they're registered and micro-chipped, all you're doing is returning them to the owner. They could've already killed the birds. How does that help?
Well, I think what the councils would like to do is in wildlife-sensitive areas, and Wellington's got a lot of them, and so have you – you know, up in Auckland, you've got the Hunua and Waitakeres and so on – then they would bring in a by-law which said any wandering cat would be treated as a pest. So they will actively, humanely trap cats, and if they pick up a cat that's micro-chipped and obviously owned, it will be returned the owner but on whatever terms as determined by the community. They might say, you know, 'You're not allowed to let this cat wander.' Three strikes and you're out or there's a fine or whatever. That's up to each community. We can't actually do anything.
A possibility is that if your cat's picked up, as you say there, multiple times wandering around – let's say three, for example – then it could be put down. Is that something you would support?
That's right. Well, I would support whatever the community would support in terms of just keeping the incidents of wandering cats down.
But what's your personal view on that?
On if a cat's been wandering, say, three times, whether they should be put down or not.
Oh, no, I would just fine people. I think 99 percent of people are responsible and they will, you know, take the measures to contain their cats. But that's up to each community to decide and where to implement it.
What would be a fair fine in your mind?
I don't know. I mean, it's up to the community. I would've thought first offence, 20 bucks or 50 bucks or something, and then step it up from there. I mean, there's all ways you can do this.
But this is all presumably… You talk about the councils; isn't that adding layers of bureaucracy and making it another responsibility for the council?
Well, it's the owner's responsibility. There's a lot of people in the community who want to protect the environment for the wildlife, and at the moment, we're sort of helpless. We can't do anything, because, you know, cats cannot be sanctioned, whereas other animals are; dogs definitely are sanctioned. So I'm just asking for fairness, really.
Okay, well, the two main political parties, Labour and National, those party leaders have Moonbeam and Buddy – they have cats – so have you had a chat to them, and is there any political buy-in for this?
More and more political buy-in, but the movement really has to come from the bottom up. For example, we were talking in Wellington on Twitter yesterday about the kaka and how these kaka could get thwarted. Well, the Mayor entered that discussion on Twitter yesterday – our mayor in Wellington – and she said, you know, that they are looking at their pest-management strategy and they are looking at a requirement to microchip and register cats so that they can enforce restrictions on wandering cats. So there is a growing movement, absolutely, at the political level. Of course, most cat owners, initially when I dragged this up in 2013, were in denial. They'd say, 'Well, my cat doesn't kill anything,' or, 'My cat only kills exotic birds, not indigenous birds,' and all these sort of things. But slowly over time, people have, you know, I think come round to the view that we have to do something in terms of responsible cat ownership.
All right, thanks for joining me this morning, Gareth Morgan.
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