Where they're found
Feral cats are widespread in New Zealand. They live in a wide variety of habitats, including coastal areas, farmland, forests, riverbeds, sub-alpine environments and on islands.
Why they're here
The first cats in New Zealand arrived with early European explorers in 1769. Ships’ cats helped control the large number of unwanted rats aboard voyaging vessels.
More than 50 years after cats were introduced to New Zealand, a feral cat population was observed to be established. It was slowly expanding around the country.
Cats were also introduced to over 30 offshore islands, from Raoul Island in the north to Rakiura/Stewart Island in the south, as well as the Chathams group, and subantarctic islands. They have since died out or been eradicated from nearly half of these islands.
Feral cats have a major impact on New Zealand’s native and non-native species. The basis of their diet alters with the habitat they live in. They feed on rabbits, birds and bird eggs, rats, hares, bats, lizards, mice, wētā and other insects.
Populations of endangered kakī/black stilt, wrybill and black-fronted terns are greatly impacted by cat predation in braided riverbeds in the central South Island.
Grand and Otago skink populations are at critically low levels in Central Otago, mainly due to cat predation.
On offshore islands, forest birds and sea birds make up a large part of the feral cat diet. In the 1980s, all kākāpō were removed urgently from Stewart Island/Rakiura to stop predation by cats. Cats swiftly exterminated all tīeke/saddleback from Hauturu/Little Barrier Island and Stephens Island/Takapourewa.
A feral cat preys on a banded dotterel at its nest
DOC has a legislated mandate to control feral cats on public conservation land.
We control feral cats at numerous sites around New Zealand. Examples include:
- kiwi protection in Northland
- shore bird protection at coastal breeding sites
- Otago and Grand skink protection in the Central Otago drylands.
We usually control feral cats as part of a wider programme targeting other invasive species such as stoats, hedgehogs and rodents. Pests can re-invade controlled areas over time, so operations are either ongoing or pulsed at regular intervals.
DOC has eradicated feral cats from several offshore islands, including Raoul Island and Rangitoto Island. Populations of native species can increase in these places, and species that cannot survive in the presence of cats can be reintroduced.
The control techniques that we currently use to control feral cats are poisoning, trapping and shooting. Where cats are lethally controlled, DOC uses efficient and humane best-practice techniques and adheres to the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
DOC supports responsible domestic cat ownership and undertakes advocacy work around domestic cats as predators of wildlife.