New Zealand Doesn't Think Cats Are All That Cool

By Lily Nelson on January 24, 2013
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Photo from flickr.com (vastateparksstaff)

Ever since the beginning of YouTube, I’ve never really understood the obsession with cats. They’re mean, they’re smelly, they almost never show you any sort of love, and worst of all, they have a mean superiority complex. I admit, watching cat montages on the internet is somewhat adorable, but these cuddly videos is only one side of the story– I still couldn’t imagine having such a standoffish pet.

Neither can New Zealand.

While the country does have the highest rate of cat ownership on the planet, according to the New Zealand Pet Food Manufacturers Association, there are strong opinions to make this statistic change.

Gareth Morgan, an economist in New Zealand, powerfully claims that the best way to protect this country’s wildlife is to “eliminate” all domestic cats. No, he doesn’t mean a mass genocide of the species, but instead to spay and neuter all existing cats, letting them live out their lives while stopping any new reproduction of the animals on the island.

In Morgan’s anti-cat website, “Cats to Go,” he boldly describes the cat as a “friendly neighborhood serial killer” in terms of its prey on birds. He claims that this “little ball of fluff” is actually endangering New Zealand’s abundant avian population and have assisted in killing off nine native bird species and endangering thirty-three others–37 percent of the surviving population.

In fact, this problem is not unique to the Kiwi Nation. Domestic cats have become a meddlesome breed worldwide, eating young birds almost as soon as they fledge the nest. Following a recent study in the Journal of Ornithology, cats were responsible for 47 percent of the deaths of birds killed by predators in the Washington D.C. area. How do we know that the curious cat is the culprit? These furry little friends decapitate their bird breakfasts. And lunches. And dinners.

So why is New Zealand in particular taking such a stance? Well, the cat issue is especially problematic on island ecosystems because so many of these now-endangered bird species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Many island birds nest in the ground and therefore have no defenses against a creature that slaps around and plays with its prey before nonchalantly killing it.

Gareth Morgan has seen much disdain when it comes to his project as currently 76 percent of site visitors are not “making [their] current cat the last one.” However, there are some things that we should remember as we make this decision: humans didn’t want cats as pets in the first place– they wanted us.

After hanging around our crops for thousands of years, making themselves useful by killing the rats and mice that ate up our food supplies, they tolerated human contact long enough to be invited into the house for a quick catnap and a bowl of milk.

Carlos A. Driscoll of the University of Oxford states that “… cats sort of domesticated themselves.”

It’s almost unnatural for them to be housed, living without predators yet free to prey on whatever they may find in the backyard. All that time ago, they chose to live with us, providing their services one kill at a time. But now, in the 21st century world of industrial farming and dependable food storage systems, their “services” are getting a little excessive.

Sure, they may be amusing while they lick peanut butter off a spoon or look miserable doing… anything… but how would you feel if a cat got your tongue? And tore it off. And waved it around like a victory flag.

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Lily Nelson is a senior at the University of Oregon double majoring in journalism and Spanish. After growing up in Park City, Utah, she finds comfort in long hikes, crossword puzzles, laughing, unhealthy amounts of coffee, reality television, and the smell of bacon. Some say she has a way with words, so writing for Uloop is a great opportunity to let her passion for the written language out. You can follow her sarcastic self on Twitter.

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