Council ambivalent on future of feral cat colonies

As Auckland Council finalises its Regional Pest Management Plan, it appears to be sitting on the fence when it comes to how to deal with feral cats in town centres.

There are a number of small groups of these cats in Silverdale and they are currently being desexed and fed by volunteers from Silverdale Cat Rescue, supported by a local vet.

A roster of six or seven volunteers makes sure the cats are fed every night.

Long time volunteers Jill Ansell and Elizabeth Johnstone say they feed the cats because the animals deserve to be treated kindly – and also to try and prevent them from catching birds.

The colonies, which are formed when people lose or abandon their pets, are dropping in size. Jill says most of the cats the group feeds have been living wild for too long to be suitable for rehoming.

She says 90 percent of the cats are fed on private property in Silverdale Village and the industrial area.
In the past year, feeding stations placed near Flexman Reserve on the banks of the Weiti River, by Silverdale Cat Rescue were removed by Auckland Council and volunteers who are undertaking pest control work there.

Forest & Bird member Vern Rule has been working to improve the environment in Flexman Reserve for more than four years. In that time the “unofficial rubbish dump” has been cleaned up and planted with around 15,000 natives. Pest control is being undertaken. The site is part of the North West Wildlink – a series of safe bird stopping-off points that extends from Tiritiri Matangi Island to the Waitakere Ranges.
He says having groups care for cats at both ends of the reserve creates predation ‘hot spots’ and is frustrating for those working hard to improve birdlife.

He says he, along with Forest & Bird, is awaiting the new pest management plan with keen interest.
“A lot of good work by volunteers will be undone if there are no plans to deal with feral cats,” Vern says.
Council’s principal biosecurity advisor, Dr Imogen Bassett, says in the recent consultation on the plan there was strong feedback from conservationists but also from people involved in feral cat management.

She says the plan aims to find a balance between those two, which is not easy because cats, even feral ones, are seen differently because they are companion animals.

“There are concerns about active lethal management, but there are things we can do, such as encouraging desexing,” Dr Bassett says. “In the proposed plan we suggest people should not be feeding cat colonies on Council land that has high ecological values but there are a number of other situations where a managed cat colony is not such a problem for native wildlife.”

Dr Bassett says cat control is likely to be at limited sites where there are threatened species present. Microchipping has been suggested in the draft plan as a way for rangers to identify a pet, as opposed to a feral or unowned cat (HM September 2017).

The Regional Pest Management Plan is expected to be adopted by Council next March.

Meanwhile, the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board endorsed its Biodiversity and Pest Free Plan last month. A coordinator will be engaged in the 2018/19 financial year to begin delivery of this plan, which makes no specific mention of cat control.