Editorial: Cat scheme bird-brained

Last updated 05:00 24/01/2013
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It strikes me that Gareth Morgan is being a bit of a drongo.

I don't want to overstate the situation here. I've carefully chosen that term for two reasons. Firstly, as a term of derision, with its origins in Australia, drongo is at the lower end of the scale as far as insults go. There are far harsher ways to say, for example: "Don't put that in the shed, ya drongo!" And I'm certainly not out to diminish Mr Morgan through the somewhat tongue-in-cheek use of the term.

So it's an insult, but a fairly low-grade one, and thus appropriate, as far as I'm concerned, as a response to his call to New Zealanders to gradually eradicate pet cats to spare our threatened native birds. I'm a cat lover, you see.

But there's a second, just as appropriate reason for the choice. A drongo is a type of bird - you might have spotted that on Sir David Attenborough's Africa series this week - with 26 different species, ranging in habitat from Africa to Australia and other parts of the Pacific. According to the information I've gleaned from the internet, drongos typically aren't afraid of attacking larger birds in defence of their nests and eggs, and other smaller species of birds sometimes nest close to them as they can benefit from that protection.

So Mr Morgan is also being a drongo in a second sense, in coming to the defence of our feathered friends.

Now let me state that I have nothing against Mr Morgan, whose philanthropic efforts are to be praised. As is his desire to see New Zealand's native birds survive and prosper for the benefit of future generations. But I do think he's being a bit of a drongo in calling for the eradication of cats as pets when they form such an important part of the fabric of New Zealand society. It's a call whose motivation has merit, but it's unrealistic in my view.

We haven't ended up with well over a million pet cats in the country completely by accident, or entirely as a result of our large feral cat population breeding unchecked. A large part of the reason is that people love cats. They're cute, they have character; why else would so much work be put into books, ornaments, pictures and novelty items celebrating our feline companions?

Far more sensible are the calls to do something about our feral cat population, as well as campaigning strongly on the need to have pet cats desexed, while at the same time continuing to address other pest species, like stoats, which threaten the survival of our precious native birds.

Because to be frank, the very idea that the pet cat could actually be eradicated from New Zealand is just plain cuckoo.

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- The Timaru Herald

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