New Zealand children’s wildcat hunt has been canceled after a backlash

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A New Zealand hunting competition that encouraged wild cat cubs to be killed for prize money has been canceled after a backlash from animal rights groups.

The North Canterbury Hunting Competition announced that it had withdrawn a category giving children under the age of 14 the chance to win around $150 for shooting the wildest cats before the end of June.

“The decision has been made to withdraw this category for this year to avoid further backlogs at this time,” the tournament organizers said in a statement posted on Facebook. “We are disappointed and we sorry for those who were excited to be involved in something that is about protecting… native birds, and other vulnerable species.”

Conservation authorities say feral cats pose a major threat to the South Pacific country’s unique wildlife, including native birds such as the flightless kiwi. Unlike stray cats, which are usually dependent on humans and forage in urban environments, these cats are wild – traveling miles of country and preying on birds, bird eggs , bats, lizards and native insects, according to officials.

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The first cats arrived with early explorers in Europe on ships in the 1700s, and the number of wild cats grew throughout the country. These cats are often larger than house cats, weighing up to 15 pounds. New Zealand has set an ambitious target of eliminating by 2050 all non-native pests – including feral cats, eel-like stoats, possums, rats and mice – which have invaded much of the country. destroy their special animals.

But the idea of ​​enlisting children, armed with air rifles, in an attempt to kill feral cats set off alarm bells among animal rights groups, who worried they could easily mistake domestic cats for feral animals and would be hard pressed to kill them. humane

“It’s very difficult to tell the difference between a feral cat and a pet cat,” Will Appelbe, a spokesman for the animal rights group SAFE, said by phone Wednesday.

Many New Zealanders allow their cats to roam freely outside and “the boundaries can be blurred,” Appelbe said. “I talked to someone yesterday who had a cat that used to be a feral cat, and it was captured and captured and re-homed.”

New Zealand has one of the highest per capita rates of cat ownership, and relatively lax regulations regarding registration and breeding have increased house cat populations in urban areas adjacent to native animal habitats.

The competition said any cat found with an embedded microchip would be disqualified, which Appelbe said was not a good deterrent, “because the cat is already dead by then.”

“The problem with competitions like this is that they tend to attract beginners, in this case children,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to shoot a cat,” he said. “So if they shoot a cat and it doesn’t kill it, that cat is likely to suffer for a long time. “

The North Canterbury Hunting Championship did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision to cancel the children’s part of the competition, which is held annually to raise money for the South Island’s rural community and school village

Organizers said on Facebook that the school had been receiving “vicious and inappropriate messages and emails” since the new award category was announced on Saturday, and the decision was partially withdrawn due to safety concerns.

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Craig Gillies, chief scientist at the Department of Conservation, declined to take an official position on the incident but said in an email that feral cat control “should be undertaken by skilled and experienced people using the right equipment and methods. “

He said the department uses “humane and approved methods to control feral cats to minimize animal suffering,” mostly through trapping, but sometimes with lethal toxins and firearms.

Christine Sumner, science officer at the New Zealand SPCA, the animal welfare organization, recognized, “sometimes feral cats could be killed as part of an overall strategy to protect biodiversity. But a “coordinated response” is needed, she said.

“Instead of organized killing events, humane education can better prepare young people to appreciate and protect New Zealand’s biological heritage,” she said.

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