Hunt on for Raglan's cat-killer

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jan 20, 2014 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

Holidaymakers in the Waikato town of Raglan may have noticed an unusual poster campaign which sprung up over summer.

The signs saying “Stop Raglan catkiller” were put up by residents who claim cats in the neighbourhood have been all but wiped out by native bird enthusiasts. But they say killing cats could actually be harmful to bird numbers.

When Julia Hill returned from holiday to find that her pet cat Max was missing, a friend told her to look in her neighbour’s rubbish bag.

“The next morning I went to check the rubbish bag and sure enough, my cat Max was inside of it, dead and frozen,” says Ms Hill.

Max was the sixth cat Ms Hill had lost in three-and-a-half years, and she isn’t alone. Some West Raglan residents say cat killings have been happening in the area for over a decade, with up to 15 in the past year.

Ms Hill and some of her neighbours believe local native bird enthusiasts are to blame.

“It’s not just somebody with a problem and they’ve killed a feral cat – they’ve actually wiped out the population of cats here and beyond,” she says.

The loss of Max prompted Ms Hill to leave the area, but not before she and some of her neighbours decided to fight back, putting up signs calling for the alleged killer – or killers – to be stopped.

“It looks menacing but it’s a peaceful protest,” says one of the campaigners. “The skull and crossbones actually means ‘you can’t kill me’.”

“Actually the design is off some underwear,” says sign designer Nigel Kearins.

The underwear-inspired design was on display across Raglan over the summer break, sparking counter-accusations from the alleged killers that members of the group are the real perpetrators.

But the group says the campaign isn’t just about catching the culprits, but raising awareness of what happens when an area suddenly goes cat free.

“They think if you wipe out cats then the bird population will go up, but what they don’t realise is that when you wipe out the cats you get an influx of rats,” says Ms Hill.

And like the issue of cat ownership itself, the campaign has polarised opinion in Raglan.

“I understand they’re trying to protect the birds, but killing cats is a bit wrong,” one resident told 3 News.

“If I found out someone had killed my cat, I’d be laying the f***ing smackdown,” said another.

“I’m on the birds’ side mate – kill the cats,” said a third.

Ecologist and West Raglan resident Adrienne Livingston says it’s not that simple. Ms Livingston says she’s not a cat person herself, but since the killings she’s found evidence of rats attacking bird’s nests.

“The eggs have been eaten, and then the chicks – brandly newly hatched, no feathers – have also been eaten and taken from their nests. So there’s no baby birds getting to the fledgling stage, which is usually when cats will get them.”

Ms Livingston says the jagged teeth marks on the eggs and the fact the nests were on thin branches proves rats are to blame. And while she admits her findings are unscientific, she says they have been backed up by other studies on areas following cat eradication programmes.

“If you take out a top predator, then the next predators down in the food chain will increase.”

The group says its contacted police, but so far they’ve shown no interest. They just hope the general public and cat control advocates take more notice.

3 News

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