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Bob Kerridge: The new war on cats

Animal welfarist Bob Kerridge is worried by the Government's war on predators - and especially a new weapon being deployed to kill cats

The average peace-loving New Zealander may not be aware of it but, apparently, we are at war. If you find this difficult to comprehend, and a little frightening, for verification you need go no further than listen to the war-like rhetoric emanating from the people at Predator Free 2050.

This new, but generously funded, movement has a clear mission: To be rid of all predators, (whatever or whoever they may be), by the year 2050, with its website calling us to arms urging us to ‘unite to fight’. The dialogue from command headquarters tells us that the ‘threat of invasion is here’ but that “we have an army of tens of thousands of New Zealanders’ to undertake "a military campaign to push the invaders back, just as we did in the last two world wars".

This disturbing talk exemplifies a dangerous path down which we are being led which could result in an ecological disaster because of this new-found obsession to become predator free. In a recently published paper two eminent ecologists, Professor Wayne Linklater and Dr Jamie Steer, are critical of the methodology being employed: "While Predator Free 2050 is well intentioned", they concluded, "New Zealand’s future conservation policies need to be less bombastic, and better informed by the environmental, ecological and social sciences". In a separate interview Linklater went further when he said New Zealanders would regard being "cruelty free" a far greater goal than "predator free", an aspiration with which I totally concur.

Not surprisingly the troops being deployed to free us of all these predators are from the Department of Conservation, (DOC), which of course is willing and able to do the job. In my naivety I used to believe conservation meant preserving our special and unique biodiversity, until I heard the previous Minister, Maggie Barry, proudly proclaiming for all to hear that ‘my guys at DOC are incredibly good at killing things’. Given there are many dedicated individuals employed by DOC who labour long and hard to preserve the lives of many of our endangered species, and more power to them, this was a foolish and heartless statement to make. 

Dr Arian Wallach of the University of Technology, Sydney, and Fellow of the Charles Darwin University, described the essence of conservation succinctly when she said: "The aim of conservation is not to generate an ever increasing (dead) body count, but to guide human behaviours to enable the rest of the earth’s species to flourish’.

So just who are these invaders that, as Predator Free 2050 advocates, need this military effort to defeat "because it is a very insidious war they have waged against us"? The irony is that these so-called invading species have no ability or desire to declare war, or any concept of what is being plotted against them, or why, neither have they the ability to protect themselves or fight back. In fact it’s a bit of a one-sided war, rather more a premeditated annihilation I would suggest.

In reality the selection of predators that need to be killed is at the behest of the greatest predator of them all, humans, either because we just don’t like them, or they are introduced species and not native to our shores, or we have the mistaken belief that if we exterminate them our biodiversity will be rescued from certain peril. In general the reasons are unscientific and immoral, as are the weapons used against them.

Where are the mechanisms in place that will protect animals from such abuse, or are there none? Are we just going to sit back and watch New Zealanders fall into moral decay?

Unbelievably cats are the latest animal to be selected as a targeted predator which will astound and horrify most people, but will delight rats, and Gareth Morgan. In an incredulous move the current Minister of Conservation, Eugenie Sage, wants to see Kiwi wandering the urban gardens of Wellington, which would not exactly be their choice of where they would wish to reside given the human dangers associated with urban living, and their lack of natural bush protection to which they are accustomed. The Minister noted that to achieve this urban dream cats would have to go, parroting the demands of the insidious ‘cats to go’ campaign, requiring ‘having cats inside, and when your cat dies then not replacing it’. So it’s cats or kiwis.

Just recently the small Southland town of Omaui hit international headlines by taking their dislike of cats to the extreme and demanding a total ban on all cats, including much loved companion cats – their likelihood of success is hopefully remote.

However, Local and Regional Councils throughout New Zealand, who have never before shown any interest in cats, are now wanting to illegally label them as ‘pest cats’ so they can be destroyed without question, again acceding to Morgan’s dictate that "any cat that is free to range should be a dead cat".

That constitutes another declaration of war, and of course weapons of mass destruction exist, especially for cats. This one comes in the form of the unpronounceable para-aminopropiophenone, or PAPP as it is generally known, currently and unashamedly being trialled by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. PAPP is coming in the form of a paste which, once ingested, starts a process of dying which is inhumane and painfully slow, with death averaging an horrendous three hours and 51 seconds to occur. During the process, signs of toxicosis occur, (head nodding, lethargy, uncontrolled movement and lack of balance), eventually advancing to unresponsiveness and collapse but fully conscious and aware, with final unconsciousness occurring only moments before death.

The persecution of cats, the country’s most popular and adored companion animal, is as unfathomable as it is without foundation. Ecologist Gary J Patonec, (USA), commented: "What I find inconsistent in an otherwise scientific debate about biodiversity is how the indictment of cats has been pursued in spite of the evidence."

I have to question, just what is the motivation that drives people to hate so vehemently that they are quite content to subject cats and other sentient beings to such extremes of torture before killing them? But remember we are, apparently, at war and the conservation soldiers are waging war to make the world a better place being totally oblivious to the probable ecological consequences of their extermination practices. The slaughter of one species on the pretext of saving another for the greater good in the name of conservation is reprehensible.

Such a trend is deeply disturbing and I wonder where is the public outrage? Because these activities are often introduced under stealth perhaps people are not aware of where this war is leading us, what weapons of mass destruction are being used, or what the consequences will be. And where are the mechanisms in place that will protect animals from such abuse, or are there none? Are we just going to sit back and watch New Zealanders fall into moral decay?

French ornithologist Jean Dorst conveys some sobering and relevant words of wisdom: "Whatever the metaphysical position is adopted and whatever place is given to the human species, man has no right to destroy a species of plant or animal on the pretext that it is useless. We have no right to exterminate what we have not created."

Read more: Toxic meatballs could target feral cats

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