Taming the spread of Wanaka’s wild cat population is the aim of local charity Wanaka Cat Rescue.
Trustee Rachel Allibone said a programme called “trap, neuter, release” was helping to stabilise the number of feral cats in the Upper Clutha.
The programme had run in Hawea and Wanaka, and next it would expand to Luggate.
Adult cats were harder to socialise and domesticate, so the group would trap cats living semi-wild or stray, take them to the vet to be desexed and vaccinated, and release them back into the wild.
The cats also had the tip of their left ear clipped under anesthetic “and that identifies them as being desexed”.
In the 12 months since the group started last August, 107 cats and kittens had been desexed.
This approach reduced the number of kittens born that could become pests.
When taking into account the number born in each litter, that was a large number of kittens that were not “out there struggling for survival or trying to find a home”, Mrs Allibone said.
Older cats were returned to the wild but younger kittens were often able to be domesticated and then found new homes.
About 66 were adopted over the first year, Mrs Allibone said.
“It works really well because the cats then do the job of keeping the rodent population down.”
The region did not have many ground-feeding native birds, so cats were more likely to be hunting rats and mice, she said.
“People sometimes think that we love cats and therefore we don’t love birds, but actually most cat lovers love all animals, including birds.”
The group checked in on the wild cat population, and if they saw a sick or injured cat they took it to the vet.
“So we monitor the population, as well.”
Returning feral cats to the wild meant they would “guard their patch”, including reducing the rat and mice population, but over time the numbers would stabilise, through the cats being desexed.
“If we just took all those cats away from that area, more cats would eventually move in. It creates a vacuum effect.”
The approach was an example of “conservative conservation”.
Instead of returning areas to their “native state”, the focus was on helping to maintain a balance between introduced species and native species.
Sometimes this was more effective than trying to remove a species entirely.
An example was an Australian project to remove all cats on an island that did not work as planned.
Once cats had been removed rabbits took over, and they destroyed bushes that native birds liked to live in, Mrs Allibone said.
The group was grateful for the help of Ruth de Reus, who founded Queenstown Cat Rescue about 10 years ago.
“They looked after this area too, until she gave us the wee push from the nest,” Mrs Allibone said.
She and fellow trustees Lindsey Turner and Bridgette McQuillan were always grateful for more volunteers who could help in a number of ways, from fundraising to fostering cats, or helping with trapping and taking wild cats to the vet.
“I think we are doing really well – it is always hard because everybody is volunteering,” Mrs Allibone said.