Call for aid to control feral cats

Feral cats have been seen high up in the Rees Valley as pressure continues to go on native animals from the feline predators.

Queenstown conservation organisation Southern Lakes Sanctuary said, in a release yesterday, it was calling for the inclusion of feral cats in the Government’s Predator Free 2050 strategy.

Southern Lakes Sanctuary project director Paul Kavanagh said urgent funding was required to control cat numbers, which were now at record highs. The organisation is facing a funding cliff in June next year so need funds to keep up the work to shut out predators, and feral cats were a big issue.

Mr Kavanagh said feral cats were tough and very adaptable and studies had shown they were responsible for the deaths of many native animals.

He said a group which looked into the death of keas, which the sanctuary worked with, had carried out investigations into what had killed the birds and about half of the deaths were caused by feral cats.

"They [feral cats] are really intelligent animals who are adaptable and are good at what they do," he said.

"The reproductive potential of a single female cat is estimated at 300 kittens in her reproductive lifetime.

"This means the feral cat population is increasing significantly every week, and we need to ramp up our efforts to control these populations to save our native taonga species.

"Most people do not realise how bad the problem is."

Southern Lakes Sanctuary Cardrona hub co-ordinator Tom Reeves out and about in the back country....
Southern Lakes Sanctuary Cardrona hub co-ordinator Tom Reeves out and about in the back country. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The government has confirmed a review of the Predator Free 2050 strategy will take place next year under public consultation. The inclusion of feral cats would generate more funding to enable Southern Lakes Sanctuary to increase resources and continue conservation work.

The feral cat population is self-sustaining — they do not rely on humans to survive and are generally located in remote areas. Male feral cats captured in the South Island high country usually weigh about 3.75kg but can weigh up to 10kg.

Since the start of the year the sanctuary has caught about 100 feral cats.

Most of the trapping the group had done was in remote areas and did not harm companion cats or strays.

"It’s important to distinguish the difference between types of cats.

We are absolutely not talking about domestic, companion cats here, or stray cats, which depend on ad-hoc human interaction."

Trapping was live so the captured animal was not killed. Cats though were smart and not easy to catch.

He said feral cats had been seen well up the Rees Valley, well west of Glenorchy, near 25 Mile Creek.

"That is pretty gnarly country up there. A long way from any town, very remote. The cats are seen above the snow line. But it is putting real pressure on our native animals up there — kea, rock wren."

The trapping and killing of feral cats is a skilled task only undertaken by staff with extensive training.