New Zealand contest for children to hunt feral cats scrapped

Competition halted following backlash from animal rights organisations

A hunting contest in rural New Zealand where children were to compete to kill the greatest number of feral cats for a cash prize has been cancelled after a backlash from animal rights organisations.

New Zealand, an island nation, has aggressively tried to control invasive species from overwhelming its native wildlife. But culling feral cats remains divisive, and the planned hunt inflamed debate about the morality of the practice and how children should be taught about invasive species management.

“There is no right or wrong here,” said James Russell, a conservation biologist at the University of Auckland. While New Zealanders broadly agree that feral cats need to be controlled, he said, “the issue is that it kind of touches on all these broader ethical issues: Should kids be the one killing cats? Should it be done as a charity competition event?”

The event was to be part of a fundraising competition in June to hunt feral animals in North Canterbury, a region on the country’s South Island. The cat-culling event was new this year and was open to children under the age of 14, with the winner receiving 250 New Zealand dollars, or about €150, according to Facebook posts by the North Canterbury Hunting Competition.


The feral cat event was announced on Saturday, but it included few details about how it would be regulated, except that participants would be disqualified if a killed cat was found to be microchipped. The announcement prompted outrage from animal rights advocates, and organisers cancelled it on Tuesday because of the backlash.

SAFE, a New Zealand animal rights organisation, was one of the groups that called for the hunt to be scrapped, citing concerns that the event would glorify hunting animals among children and that domestic cats could be caught in the crossfire.

Predator species

“It’s bad enough that young people are being taught and encouraged to kill small animals,” said Will Appelbe, a spokesman for SAFE. “There is little to no difference in the physical appearance of feral, stray and pet cats. Disqualifying dead cats with microchips is too little, too late.”

But proponents argued that feral cats are a predator species that needed to be culled and that the event would have taught children how to responsibly manage invasive species. They called for the cat hunt to be reinstated.

Mat Bailey, one of the organisers, said that the event was not about deliberately encouraging children to kill cats, but instead about teaching them about the broader issue of invasive species. Children would already be hunting rabbits, possums, rats and other invasive species with rifles as part of the competition, which would run over a weekend, he said, “so they’re going to be out here anyway, and we might as well include the cat because it’s the worst of the lot.”

“It’s not that we just want kids to kill cats, it’s the whole problem of the whole lot” of invasive species, he said. The event was about “teaching kids firearms safety; it’s just in general a fun activity for them — getting them out in the fresh air, and it’s making them realise these animals are destroying native species.”

The competition still plans to hunt animals other than cats, he said.

New Zealand takes a harsh approach to eradicating invasive species that is broadly supported by the public, and events to hunt feral animals are not uncommon. Every year, the town of Alexandra, on South Island, conducts an annual “Great Easter Bunny Hunt” where children and adults cull feral rabbits.

The country has a plan to eliminate its three most pervasive invasive predator species — opossums, rats and weasels — by 2050 to protect native wildlife.

Feral felines are not included in official eradication plans because “it’s too politically difficult” considering the attachment that residents feel toward pet cats, said Grant Norbury, a wildlife ecologist with Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research, an environment and biodiversity institute in New Zealand.

While hunting feral cats itself is an accepted method of controlling the species, “it’s when you talk about children in particular and doing it as a competition, I think, that it’s politically unwise,” he said. - New York Times