Cat The cat (''Felis catus'') is a domestic species of small carnivorous mammal. It is the only domesticated species in the family Felidae and is commonly referred to as the domestic cat or house cat to distinguish it from the wild members of t ...
s are a popular
pet A pet, or companion animal, is an animal kept primarily for a person's company or entertainment rather than as a working animal, livestock, or a laboratory animal. Popular pets are often considered to have attractive appearances, intelligence ...
in New Zealand. Cat ownership is occasionally raised as a controversial conservation issue due to the predation of endangered species, such as birds and lizards, by feral cats.

Domesticated cats

The domestic cat (''Felis catus'') first arrived at New Zealand on Captain James Cook's ship '' HMS Endeavour'' in the mid-18th century, but were established by European settlers a century later. , there are an estimated 1.419 million domestic cats in New Zealand, with almost half of all households owning at least one and an average of 1.8 cats per household. Because of the effects of predation on New Zealand wildlife, domestic cat ownership is sometimes a contentious issue. Since the 1990s, cat-free subdivisions have occasionally been established to prevent predation occurring within nearby natural areas by domestic cats. In 1996 a cat-free subdivision was established at Waihi Beach, a landmark decision by the Western Bay of Plenty District Council. It was sought by Forest and Bird and the Department of Conservation to protect wildlife in a nearby salt marsh. In 2012, the operators of the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary called for cat owners not to replace their pet when they die as a means of reducing the cat population. In 2013, Gareth Morgan, an economist and philanthropist, caused an international furore when he called for cats to be wiped out. He launched the "Cats To Go" website to support the stance. It is suggested that owners could euthanize their cats, but it is not seen as necessary."Call to eradicate New Zealand’s pet cats draws hisses from cat lovers"
''The Washington Post'' (Associated Press), 22 January 2013
Some conservationists supported the stance taken by Morgan. Even though cats control rodents which also prey on native wildlife and thus have a protective role, the
precautionary principle The precautionary principle (or precautionary approach) is a broad epistemological, philosophical and legal approach to innovations with potential for causing harm when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. It emphasizes cauti ...
is recommended in certain cases such as adjacent to natural areas and in outer suburbs of cities.

Feral cats

Apart from two species of bats, New Zealand did not have any land-based mammals until settlement by the Māori and by European people. As a consequence, birds and even insects took over the ecological niche normally filled by mammals. The introduced mammals, including cats, became
invasive species An invasive species otherwise known as an alien is an introduced organism that becomes overpopulated and harms its new environment. Although most introduced species are neutral or beneficial with respect to other species, invasive species adv ...
that severely affected the native wildlife. It is estimated that
feral cat A feral cat or a stray cat is an unowned domestic cat (''Felis catus'') that lives outdoors and avoids human contact: it does not allow itself to be handled or touched, and usually remains hidden from humans. Feral cats may breed over dozens ...
s have been responsible for the extinction of six endemic bird species and over 70 localised subspecies, as well as depleting the populations of bird and lizard species. The extinction of
Lyall's wren Lyall's wren or the Stephens Island wren (''Traversia lyalli'') is a small, extinct, flightless passerine belonging to the family Acanthisittidae, the New Zealand wrens. It was once found throughout New Zealand, but when it came to the attentio ...
is a case of bird extinction due to predation by cats. The extinction of the birds is often blamed on the lighthouse keeper's cat alone, but cats had become established in 1894 when a single pregnant female landed on the island, so it is likely that it was a result of the whole cat population. Cats are problematic on other islands as well. It was speculated that cats would have caused the extinction of the kakapo on Stewart Island / Rakiura, had the birds not been moved to other islands. The introduction of cats on to Mangere, Herekopare and Raoul Islands caused localised extinctions of bird species. After cats were eradicated from Little Barrier Island, the local bird populations increased and North Island saddlebacks were successfully reintroduced. Feral cats are the principal threat to the critically endangered
black stilt The black stilt (''Himantopus novaezelandiae'') or kakī ( Māori) is a wading bird found in New Zealand. It is one of the world's rarest birds, with 169 adults surviving in the wild as of May 2020. Adult kakī have distinctive black plumage, ...
and only 85 birds remain, largely in the
Mackenzie Basin The Mackenzie Basin (), popularly and traditionally known as the Mackenzie Country, is an elliptical intermontane basin located in the Mackenzie and Waitaki Districts, near the centre of the South Island of New Zealand. It is the largest ...
. After the illegal introduction of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RCD) into New Zealand, rabbit numbers were reduced dramatically for a period of time. When the rabbit numbers in the Mackenzie Basin were low, feral cats switched from preying on rabbits to preying on native fauna, including the black stilt. A trapping programme for cats and other predators that threatened the black stilt population was instigated by the Department of Conservation. The impact of feral cats on species other than birds is not as well documented although in 2010 the Department of Conservation discovered that a feral cat was responsible for killing over 100 endangered New Zealand short-tailed bats over a seven-day period in a forested area on the southern slope of Mount Ruapehu. In 2020 the Hamilton City Council opened a $100,000 fund to desex and home feral cats in the city.


Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by an infection of ''
Toxoplasma gondii ''Toxoplasma gondii'' () is an obligate intracellular parasitic protozoan (specifically an apicomplexan) that causes toxoplasmosis. Found worldwide, ''T. gondii'' is capable of infecting virtually all warm-blooded animals, but felids, such as d ...
'', a
protozoa Protozoa (singular: protozoan or protozoon; alternative plural: protozoans) are a group of single-celled eukaryotes, either free-living or parasitic, that feed on organic matter such as other microorganisms or organic tissues and debris. Histor ...
parasite Parasitism is a close relationship between species, where one organism, the parasite, lives on or inside another organism, the host, causing it some harm, and is adapted structurally to this way of life. The entomologist E. O. Wilson has ...
found worldwide that can infect virtually all warm-blooded animals.
Felids Felidae () is the family of mammals in the order Carnivora colloquially referred to as cats, and constitutes a clade. A member of this family is also called a felid (). The term "cat" refers both to felids in general and specifically to the do ...
such as domestic and feral cats are the only known definitive hosts in which the parasite may undergo sexual reproduction. Animals and humans can become infected through contact with food, water or materials in the environment that are contaminated with faeces from an infected cat. A study done on patients in Auckland with acute toxoplasmosis revealed that the disease may be seriously debilitating in some cases. The patients had a high rate of fatigue, headaches, and had a difficulty with concentration. New Zealand native animals can be at risk from toxoplasmosis. Several species of kiwi from wild populations have been found to be infected, with consequences that may lead to the death of the bird. Research is being undertaken to establish the extent to which kiwi are exposed to ''T. gondii''. Toxoplasmosis has been confirmed as a cause of death of endangered Hector's dolphin's and critically endangered Māui dolphins.The dolphins can become infected when parasites from cat faeces enter wastewater (sewerage) systems or natural waterways and then end up in the marine
food chain A food chain is a linear network of links in a food web starting from producer organisms (such as grass or algae which produce their own food via photosynthesis) and ending at an apex predator species (like grizzly bears or killer whales), detr ...

Phantom big cat sightings

Since the late 1990s, big cat sightings ( phantom cats) have been reported in widely separated parts of New Zealand, in both the
North North is one of the four compass points or cardinal directions. It is the opposite of south and is perpendicular to east and west. ''North'' is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography. Etymology The word ''north'' is ...
and South Islands. There have been several unverified
panther Panther may refer to: Large cats *Pantherinae, the cat subfamily that contains the genera ''Panthera'' and ''Neofelis'' **''Panthera'', the cat genus that contains tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards. ***Jaguar (''Panthera onca''), found in Sout ...
sightings in Mid-Canterbury near Ashburton and in the nearby foothills of the Southern Alps, but searches conducted there in 2003 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry found no corroborating physical evidence.


The Animal Welfare Act 1999 and the Animal Welfare (Companion Cats) Code of Welfare 2007 govern the welfare of cats. For
biosecurity Biosecurity refers to measures aimed at preventing the introduction and/or spread of harmful organisms (e.g. viruses, bacteria, etc.) to animals and plants in order to minimize the risk of transmission of infectious disease. In agriculture, thes ...
reasons cats must undergo tests and treatment before being imported into New Zealand and in some cases direct importation is not permitted. The Animal Welfare Act deems it to be illegal to abandon an unwanted cat.


There are numerous cat welfare and cat breeding organisations in New Zealand. The
Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals The Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (abbreviated as RNZSPCA or SPCA) is a New Zealand charitable society who work to promote the humane treatment of animals. The society consists of 35 animal shelters around Ne ...
was formed in 1882 and now has 47 branches around the country. Cats Unloved is a Christchurch-based organisation working with cats. In 2011 the organisation was criticised for euthanasing cats with
chloroform Chloroform, or trichloromethane, is an organic compound with formula C H Cl3 and a common organic solvent. It is a colorless, strong-smelling, dense liquid produced on a large scale as a precursor to PTFE. It is also a precursor to various re ...
, although it is done legally and is considered to be necessary to address the problem of stray cats, seen as a large problem in the city. The
animal euthanasia Animal euthanasia (euthanasia from el, εὐθανασία; "good death") is the act of killing an animal or allowing it to die by withholding extreme medical measures. Reasons for euthanasia include incurable (and especially painful) conditio ...
is done on wild and diseased cats and those which were not housetrained. There are also a number of Cats Protection League groups in different parts of the country. New Zealand Cat Fancy is a governing body for the many cat clubs around the country and CATZ Inc is a registry for New Zealand cats.

Cats in popular culture

"Horse" is a cat in the popular cartoon series ''
Footrot Flats ''Footrot Flats'', a comic strip by New Zealand cartoonist Murray Ball, ran from 1976 to 1994 in newspapers (unpublished strips continued to appear in book form until 2000). Altogether there are 27 numbered books (collecting the newspaper strip ...
''. It is a large, fierce and practically invincible cat, based on one that belonged to
Murray Ball Murray Hone Ball (26 January 1939 – 12 March 2017) was a New Zealand cartoonist who became known for his ''Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero'' (the longest running cartoon in '' Punch'' magazine), ''Bruce the Barbarian'', ''All the King's Comrade ...
, the creator of the cartoon series.
Mittens A mitten is a type of glove that covers the hand but does not have separate finger openings or sheaths. Generally, mittens still separate the thumb from the other four fingers. They have different colours and designs. Mittens provide greater th ...
, a Turkish Angora resident of Wellington, became a minor internet celebrity with a strong following on Facebook. People from all of the world tried to glimpse him when they visited the Capital as he wandered kilometres away from his home in Kelburn. Mittens moved to Auckland in late 2021.

See also

* Mammals of New Zealand * Conservation in New Zealand * Invasive species in New Zealand * Trap-neuter-return


Further reading

* * * * * *{{cite journal, last=Farnworth, first=Mark J., author2=Nicholson G. Dye , author3=Natasha Keown , year=2010, title=The Legal Status of Cats in New Zealand: A Perspective on the Welfare of Companion, Stray, and Feral Domestic Cats (Felis catus), journal=Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, volume=13, issue=2, pages=180–188, issn=1088-8705, doi=10.1080/10888700903584846, pmid=20349383, s2cid=20748080
We need to talk about feral cats
– The Detail at RNZ
Feral cats hunting high in South Island mountains, some even crossing passes to West Coast headwaters

External links

Pets (including cats)
at the New Zealand Department of Conservation
Wildlife friendly areas
– factsheet from Forest and Bird
Cats' impact on native wildlife – Experts respond
– Science Media Centre press release ;Organisations
Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to AnimalsSociety for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Auckland
(SPCA Auckland)
New Zealand Cat Fancy Inc.Cats Unloved Charitable TrustCats To Go
Mammals of New Zealand Society of New Zealand