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Nelson Mail - 2021-11-26

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Trapping cats to save kea

News

Amy Ridout

While possums, rats and stoats have taken centre stage in our bid for a predator-free Aotearoa, there is less recognition of our feral cat problem, says a conservationist. Kea Conservation Trust chairwoman Tamsin Orr-Walker is behind an effort to tackle feral cats in Nelson Lakes National Park, in a state-of-the-art trapping initiative that has seen success around the country. Working with the Department of Conservation and Friends of Rotoiti, the trust has installed 20 live traps near known nesting sites around Lake Rotoiti. Using satellite technology, the traps, which are baited with dried rabbit meat, send a signal when triggered, alerting monitoring teams. Monitors must act quickly: the traps are large enough to ensnare a cat, and kea can get into them, although this had not yet happened, Orr-Walker said. Since the traps were installed in August, seven or so cats had been ensnared, along with some possums. Cats can travel long distances, and prey on chicks and adult birds, she said. While cats have commonly been spotted in native bush near built-up areas and farmland, they are becoming more widespread. Recently, a cat was spotted on the Milford Track, Orr-Walker said. ‘‘The Milford Track is considered the last bastion of our wilderness areas, not impacted by predators. But they are there.’’ The trust did not endorse the community groups carrying out ‘‘trap, neuter, return’’ initiatives, which re-release feral cats into the wild. ‘‘For groups doing a lot of trapping work, it’s soul-destroying to see this is going on, there’s no place for feral cats in our wilderness.’’ While Orr-Walker has been accused of being a cat hater, this was not accurate, she said. ‘‘It’s not their fault; it’s us. Trap-andreturn people are trying to say cats will naturally become part of our landscape. But that does not happen.’’ The discussion of what predator free looked like in New Zealand in terms of cats was a tricky one, she said. ‘‘But it’s a conversation that needs to be had if we want to save our native species.’’ The trust’s work in Nelson Lakes began in 2009 with a three-year survey of the local kea population, Orr-Walker said. Their findings raised alarm in the conservation world. Kea, which had been assumed relatively immune to predation, had dropped in number by about 80 per cent since the 1990s, she said. The ground-nesting parrot is now recognised to be in serious decline, with between 3000 and 7000 remaining across the country. The trust is raising funds to increase its trapping network in the Nelson Lakes. You can donate via Givealittle.

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