Under the new Greater Wellington Regional Council pest management plan, it is an offence to feed pest cat colonies. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

The hunter has become the prey, after the Greater Wellington Regional Council announced its new Pest Management Plan 2019-2039, which targets feral cats for the first time.

Regional council spokesman Stephen Heath said feral and pest cats were a growing problem for the region, particularly in rural parts of Wairarapa.

“We suspect there are increasing numbers of pest cats in the wild, though this is only anecdotal – we do not survey them,” he said.

Also on the council’s undesirable animals list are hedgehogs, deer, wild goats, wild rabbits, mustelids, possum rats and wallabies.

Part of the problem is people dumping unwanted cats or kittens and others trying to support these colonies by feeding them.

Heath said feeding pest cat colonies only perpetuated the problem of predation and made matters worse.

“The best approach is to control the population.

“We strongly advise people not to dump unwanted cats into bush, where they will survive partly by predating native creatures.

“[If they find cats] our message is, leave them alone and don’t make the problem worse,” he said.

By including cats in the plan, the council can prosecute anyone who dumps or supports feral cats under the Biosecurity Act.

It specifies a range of potential penalties including fines and even imprisonment.

“The purpose of the rule is to prevent members of the public from encouraging or supporting pet cat colonies on private and public land and to assist with controlling pest and unwanted cat populations,” Heath said.

The plan defines pest cats as those that are not microchipped in areas where its required, not registered as companion animals, are free-living, unsocialised, not owned, and have a limited relationship with humans.

Pest cats were added to the control list because of their predation of native birds and their eggs, lizards, fish, frogs, and large invertebrates.

Possum, stoats, ferrets, and hedgehogs are also on the list and pose a real risk to biodiversity, Heath said.

Domestic cat owners need not worry, however.

“We are not interested in pet cats, or cats outside of sensitive areas. Pet cat owner can be reassured that we are not targeting their pets,” he said.