Kittens at Marlborough Four Paws. It is thought a female cat can give birth to up to 300 kittens in her lifetime.
Two Marlborough charities are calling on the council to introduce new cat ownership rules to reduce the region’s huge feral cat populations and protect the area’s native wildlife.
With the backing of Picton Dawn Chorus, animal rescue centre Marlborough Four Paws are set to present Marlborough District Council with a petition at the end of the month demanding stricter bylaws for cat ownership, including the compulsory desexing and microchipping of all pet felines.
Michelle Madson, co-founder of Marlborough Four Paws, said stricter rules were urgently required to help stem the flow of stray and feral cats from urban centres into conservation areas.
“People need to understand that the problem is actually in the centre of town, and they keep breeding, so eventually it keeps pushing out, and out, and out, and ends up in our native bush,” Madson said.
“We’re seeing kittens in the Wither Hills Farm Park, and they’ve got beautiful tui up there.
“When we went up to trap the cats at the farm park there, I could hear all the birds … if we don’t get the cats, those birds are going to be gone,” she said.
Council’s current bylaws from 2017 allow for people to own up to four cats aged over 3 months at their property with no rules or regulations in place for mandatory desexing or microchipping the animals.
Madson said as a result the stray and feral cat populations had exploded in recent years, causing concern for conservationists, and leaving charities and animal shelters to deal with the aftermath.
She said changes to the bylaws were urgently needed with the cats’ breeding season now extending throughout winter and kittens being able to reproduce at just 4 months old.
“We’ve spoken to the council about it, and they said they’ll wait and see what happens nationally, but of course when you’re waiting, they’re breeding,” Madson said.
“There are just thousands of kittens and cats that aren’t desexed, and they’re just breeding and breeding, and it’s actually getting worse.
A feral cat caught over coronavirus lockdown was found with more than 15 native lizards in its belly.
“We’re wanting the council to make it compulsory for desexing and microchipping – that would be a damn good start,” she said.
Earlier this week, a move to mandate the registration and desexing of cats nationwide took a major leap forward when a Government select committee called for the legislation to be put in place.
Last year Forest and Bird estimated pet cats in New Zealand kill at least 1 million natives birds each year. The number of birds killed by feral cats remained unknown but was estimated to be much higher.
Pip McFarlane, Picton Dawn Chorus’ general manager, said the conservation charity was fully behind Marlborough Four Paws’ petition for tighter controls on cat ownership in the region.
“They’re (Marlborough Four Paws) having such a problem that it’s got out of hand, and it’s acknowledging that it’s got beyond their ability to cope.
“We’re in support of the Council reviewing its policy over responsible cat ownership.
“Stuff like desexing, microchipping and keeping cats indoors, those conversations haven’t happened yet because the Council haven’t come on board to have discussions and get something happening,” she said.
Some local authorities had introduced new bylaws on cat ownership in recent years, such as Selwyn District Council where all domestic cats over the age of 4 months had to be microchipped and registered with the approved microchip registry New Zealand Companion Animals Register (NZCAR).
In Whangārei, all cats had to be desexed and microchipped by the time they were 6 months old.
McFarlane said she was aware of other councils implementing such measures and believed it was time a similar approach was taken in Marlborough.
“Other councils have put bylaws in place, but at this stage our council hasn’t. So the idea of the petition is to get the council to address it, and realise there are people who are prepared to support some sort of responsible cat ownership and get them to start having conversations with us,” she said.
See the petition online at change.org.