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Concern over cats in reserve

HAMISH MACLEAN
Last updated 08:21 21/02/2013

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Bay Chronicle

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A colony of stray cats is threatening native wildlife in Paihia, conservationists say.

Bay Bush Action trustees say the cats are a threat to "one of the most biodiverse residential areas in New Zealand".

"As a community we need to have pride in our wonderful native wildlife and start standing up for them," spokesman Craig Salmon says.

Little is known about the colony with its numbers estimated to range from six to 40 cats, but they are desexed and are fed by volunteers, Bay of Islands SPCA says.

SPCA Auckland executive director Bob Kerridge warns against attempts to remove the stray cats.

"It is well proven that the removal of cats from colonies produces far worse circumstances where in a very short period of time [the desexed strays] are replaced by entire cats, usually in greater numbers," he says in a letter to Bay Bush Action.

Mr Kerridge warns about confusing stray cats with feral ones, saying they are not a particular menace to birdlife.

He says stray cats are protected under the Animal Welfare Act and are not declared pests.

"Accordingly, any pain or suffering inflicted on them will be subject to prosecution.

". . . There is an unfortunate tendency through sheer ignorance to lump feral cats in with strays."

But Mr Salmon says the strays are a threat.

"The organisation understands the compassion felt by the carers of the cat colony but feel it is wholly inappropriate to have stray cat colonies, especially so close to a state forest and beaches where native animals live and feed," he says.

"Dozens of our volunteers are spending hundreds of hours trying to protect our beautiful forest and shoreline.

"It would not be acceptable for a colony of dogs, stoats or rats to remain in the same way this cat colony is."

The endangered New Zealand dotterel, little blue penguins and other sea birds such as oyster catchers, stilts, gulls are all extremely vulnerable to being killed by cats, Mr Salmon says.

Bay Bush Action traps pests over 120 hectares in the Opua State Forest near town, on the two islands out from Paihia, Motu Maire and Motu Arahi, and on roughly 50 hectares of private land adjoining the State Forest.

Over two years $30,000 and many volunteer hours have been spent on pest control in the area.

Mr Salmon says Bay Bush Action will talk to the council about the matter. The cats are on a council- owned reserve.

Far North District Council communication manager Richard Edmondson says the council has no jurisdiction to deal with feral or stray cats, but it does have obligations to manage council reserves in accordance with the Reserves Act.

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Staff are considering management options and expect to make a decision on how to proceed before the end of the month, he says.

Mr Salmon says protecting one of the Bay's main assets - its wildlife - is a community responsibility.

He would like cats to be adopted out to caring homes.

"The SPCA work tirelesssly dealing with the result of irresponsible cat owners.

"Taking responsibility means neutering, immunising, micro-chipping, preventing wandering, putting a bell on them and keeping them indoors at night."

The trust would like to see all cats registered, micro-chipped and neutered, he says. "And eventually we would like to see only registered breeders be able to supply pet cats."

- Bay Chronicle

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