Editorial: Courting controversy
There are few truly controversial things you could say that would upset much of the population. But getting rid of cats in New Zealand - completely - would easily make it on to the list.
Environmental campaigner Gareth Morgan quotes figures that almost half of New Zealand households have a cat or two, which he says makes us the world's most prolific cat owners. And, ironically or not, he points out about 40 per cent of our native land birds are already extinct.
In August, he raised hackles when proposing to make Stewart Island the world's first pest-free community, which included getting rid of feral and pet cats. We should point out he's not advocating killing your pet cat - simply, when it dies, don't replace it.
To be fair, Morgan is right. Cats kill. They're a significant player in the destruction of native birds, skinks, and invertebrates such as weta. But so are possums, stoats, ferrets, rats, mice and dogs. There are constantly calls for dog owners not to allow their pets near beaches where penguins live, but there's no proposal to get rid of dogs from all beach areas.
While it might seem that our urban areas sprawl over vast areas, humans live in only a small percentage of New Zealand. There's a lot of wilderness out there, a lot of native bush that's home to our wildlife. Yes, humans have encroached on a large amount of the country, converted to farmland, but you can never turn back time.
Morgan has always been ready to express his views, and he certainly knows how to produce a soundbite - but upsetting much of the wider populace isn't the way to achieve goals.
He's done something similar with his football team, the Wellington Phoenix. Even though he's admitted that his football knowledge is limited, he's decided, as co-owner, that he wants them to play a different style of football - a more attractive passing style - to ensure success in the long-term.
Fair enough. We're all for making the beautiful game even better . . . and it would certainly be nice for the Phoenix to replicate the Breakers' success in the Australian basketball competition.
But now he's taking a swipe (pardon the cat pun) or two at Phoenix fans, who you have to remember have had a tough few years. He's criticised them for wanting "instant gratification", whereas any results from the change are likely to emerge in the long-term.
Many fans didn't know much about the game and only thought of of themselves, not about the club's future, he says.
We might not know much about running a football club either, but we're fairly confident one way not to go about it is by criticising the people who pay to see your team.
He wants fans to put up with "short-term pain", because the bigger picture is far more important.
That's how he sees the cat issue. It's likely he's rationalised the idea in the same way. Regardless of the widespread upset banning cats would cause in the short term, bringing back the birdlife would be worth it.
But he's forgetting the true pests. Possums, stoats, ferrets, rats, mice and other vermin do untold damage to not just wildlife but fauna in our native forests. Finding a way to tackle those would surely bring a greater benefit to New Zealand Inc than getting rid of pet cats. And would do more to get "fans" on board. As would not criticising football fans. But then what would we know, we aren't running a football club.
The Southland Times