Plea to keep cats off beaches

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 08:01 19/12/2012

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Rogue cats are being blamed for a spate of rare-bird killings on Coromandel beaches this breeding season.

Holidaymakers are being urged to keep their cats under control.

Department of Conservation ranger Rebekah Duffin said the New Zealand dotterel was the rarest among the area's shorebirds and this spring had been fraught with nest losses, mainly due to predation.

Cats were particularly good predators - quiet and quick.

While dotterel numbers had slowly increased in recent years, wild and domestic cats had developed a taste for the birds as other predators such as stoats, hedgehogs and rats were killed in traps near nesting areas.

Dotterels are rarer than kiwi and at last count there were 450 on the peninsula. Volunteers keep watch over nesting areas, fence them off, educate beachgoers and there is a lone dotterel ranger.

However, there is only so much they can do.

"These endangered shorebirds have ground-based nests in the sand dunes and on the beach, and while trapping catches many egg eating predators it is the increased presence of cat prints seen on most of our Coromandel beaches which is of concern," Mrs Duffin said.

"Cats can roam several kilometres on a hunt, often using the same route through the sand dunes and onto the beach. Many eggs have been lost to cats this season, some on the verge of hatching and with adult dotterel being killed during the attack."

She said Whangamata was a particular problem area as summer crowds moved in.

Cat owners who chose to bring their beloved moggy along for the festive holiday were urged to keep it indoors at night.

"When your holiday is over and you can't find your cat - don't assume someone will look after it," Mrs Duffin said.

"Abandoned cats will hunt the beaches, the bush and our wetlands here on the Coromandel - home to many of our endangered or native bird species."

Dogs could also be killers. It took a moment for them to snap up a chick or destroy a nest so leashes should be used near breeding areas.

If dogs were left off their leash to roam then one moment could destroy what had taken months to achieve, Mrs Duffin said.

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- Waikato

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