JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Killing off kitty


Laura Helmuth

Gareth Morgan says your cat "is actually a friendly neighbourhood serial killer".

Gareth Morgan says your cat "is actually a friendly neighbourhood serial killer".

You know what animal makes a good pet? No animal.

Dogs will bite you to death and then eat your corpse. Snakes will asphyxiate you, escape, infest the countryside, and eat all its mammals.

Pet parrots perpetuate a trade that upends ecosystems, and hamsters pass you dangerous zoonotic diseases.

Cats kill for pleasure ... Gareth Morgan.

Cats kill for pleasure ... Gareth Morgan. Photo: Bill Kearns

But perhaps the worst pet of all, environmentally speaking, is a cat.

Domesticated cats started out as parasites on human civilisation. Unlike other species, and admittedly to their credit, they domesticated themselves.

When humans started growing grain, the crops attracted rodents that attracted cats. Wild cats evolved into housecats, and they were quite useful for thousands of years, killing disease-ridden rats and mice and protecting our food stockpiles.

But now that we have industrial farming, reliable food storage, and mostly mouse-proof houses, cats are mere parasites again.

Playful and often affectionate parasites, sure, and adorable when young, but a scourge on the landscape.

An economist in New Zealand named Gareth Morgan (who is the father of Sam, the founder of the online auction business TradeMe) has made the logical and quite correct case that Kiwis should eliminate its cats to protect its endangered birds.

He means "elimination" in the most humane way possible: Existing pets should be spayed and neutered and allowed to live out their lives, but no new cats should be allowed to be born or imported.

He is not advocating that people poison feral cats. Nor does he say people should shoot them, as particularly avid birdwatchers have done. That would be really wrong.

Morgan points out that your cat "is actually a friendly neighbourhood serial killer." He may sound like some wretched, obsessed character, but his Cats To Go project isn't meant as a caricature of environmentalism.

He's asking people to pledge to neuter their cats, keep them indoors, and not get any new ones.

Cats are a globally invasive species. They kill millions of birds each year.

Cats are particularly damaging in island ecosystems that are home to species found nowhere else on earth.

A lot of island birds and mammals evolved in the absence of cat-size predators. They nest on the ground and have no defenses against an invasive species that plays with and then decapitates its victims.

Cats have endangered or caused the extinction of bird species in Hawaii, Australia, the Chatham Islands and New Zealand, among others.

Morgan points out that 40 per cent of New Zealand's land birds are extinct, and 37 per cent of the survivors are endangered.

Humans are responsible for most modern extinctions, whether through hunting, habitat destruction, introduction of invasive species or other environmental disruptions.

If we give up or at least contain our cats, wild animals will have more of a chance.

Laura Helmuth is Slate's science and health editor.




  • I wonder if this is tongue in cheek from the writer?

    Quick how about neutering all humans and not letting anyone have any more kids that will solve all the problems in the world...

    Date and time
    January 25, 2013, 12:30PM
    • Their owners should be deposed off for neglect and allowing a cat out at night. The owner supposed to have a brain, and act accordingly, the cat problem is the result of people, not the cat.

      Hunter NSW
      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 1:18PM
    • Every time I see a cat I want to shoot it. I never would, but I want to.

      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 1:32PM
    • No I think he is suggesting it in all seriousness. Why should people be allowed to keep pets like cats in a country with wildlife that is so vulnerable to such predators? Why?

      And to draw a connection between pets and humans is a bit silly. I think this is a conversation that needs to be had without such silliness.

      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 1:37PM
    • I know how you feel, sarajane, I feel the same way about dogs. But, hey, live and let live I say.

      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 1:41PM
    • And the trolling begins....

      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 1:46PM
    • Until this morning, I was training my cat to first neuter and then kill Gareth Morgan. He has obviously got wind of this and his publication of this so-called 'research' issue is a preemptive strike against me.

      Well played Mr.Morgan, but this isn't over!

      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 1:53PM
    • Yep, a world without humans would be bliss indeed. All the other animals - for we are just animals ourselves, after all - would get along much more naturally.

      Gareth Morgan is a nutter. The answer is not eradicating cats but making people more responsible for the pets they do own.

      ALL pets should, IMHO, be:

      * desexed,
      * microchipped,
      * enclosed.

      We have 6 cats - they are all inside cats, they have a garden cattery, and a netted verandah for extra outside play area. They are happy and well adjusted and there are many advantages, including:

      * Nonexistent emergency vet bills - we know well in advance when someone is due at the vet and can budget accordingly. No injuries from accidents with vehicles, or encounters with other (larger and fiercer) animals, or cruel human animals.
      * Inside cats only need vaccination every 3 years, not every year. easy on the budget, easy on the cat's health (some cats react just as badly to vaccination as some children).
      * No wildlife dragged inside hurt or dead. The birds actually taunt our cats from outside the enclosure - they know the cats can't get 'em, smart and cheeky little buggers!

      I believe all Councils should make enclosures for cats (and dogs) mandatory, ditto desexing for all domestic pets.

      Pets are proven to be good for our health, if not the health of the local wildlife. So why not take steps that let us enjoy the companionship and health advantages of pets, while protecting the natural environment.

      Eradication is NOT necessary.

      Terranora NSW 2486
      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 2:04PM
    • There are two cats around out backyard.
      I have no idea where their owners live, probably two separate places as these cats fight all the time.
      They are making a mess of the garden and use the vegetable garden as a toilet.

      There have been at least four attempts in the last three years for different birds to nest in our trees and bushes.
      Invariably ends with destroyed nests.
      Occasionally dead pieces of birds are lying in the back yard, mostly lorikeet bits of wings..

      Lovely animals indeed..
      I suspect the toxoplasma parasite works the same way on human brains as on rat brains.

      If there was something you could buy that would kill cats as they cross the land boundary, I'll buy it in a second..

      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 2:22PM
    • Alex of Stanmore, it's not silly to discuss humans. If it weren't for human irresponsibility we wouldn't have cat issues. And if we eliminated all cats, this planet would still have very big problems! Perhaps you are hinting that we need to be practical?

      For starters, clearly there are many responsible cat owners as evidenced by the comments below. From my experience, cats are excellent pets and can easily be kept indoors at all times without detriment to the cat. I adopted my cat when it was a few years old and used to roaming outdoors. I started with short supervised visits outside and soon she was an indoor cat. For those who think outdoors is essential, a cat enclosure is a great compromise. Councils should insist upon containment with a phase-in period and big fines thereafter. Particularly in suburbs with bushland. Dogs should always be supervised if the person is visiting a bush trail and somewhat contained on bush blocks. Arguably dogs don't suit bush blocks at all as harder to keep inside. Let's advocate for positive sensible measures, not alienate dog or cat lovers.

      Date and time
      January 25, 2013, 2:24PM

More comments

Comments are now closed

HuffPost Australia

Follow Us

Featured advertisers