What does it look like?
Feral and stray cats originate from domesticated cats. They are usually short-haired and slightly built, with a large head and sharp features. They are often in poor physical condition.
Feral cats have none of their needs provided by humans and their population size fluctuates largely independently of humans. They do not need to live around centres of human habitation and their population is self-sustaining, requiring no input from the domestic cat population.
Stray cats have been lost or abandoned by humans but may still have many of their needs indirectly supplied by humans and live around centres of human habitation. Stray cats may rely on humans for food but they are usually wary of humans and may be aggressive when cornered or captured.
Cats can be found in most terrestrial habitats, including urban areas, production landscapes (e.g. farms, orchards) and natural areas (e.g. forests, dunes, wetlands).
Why is it a problem?
Cats are generalist predators and can have large home ranges. It is estimated that feral, stray and pet cats kill up to 100 million birds in New Zealand each year. They are a major predator of kiwi chicks and also eat eggs, lizards, invertebrates and frogs.
Cats are prolific breeders. Females usually take 6 - 9 months to reach sexual maturity but kittens as young as 4 months can become pregnant. Pregnancy lasts about 68 days and litters are most commonly of 3-6 kittens. A female can have more than one litter each year. Stray cats have higher survival rates than feral cats and faster reproduction rates.
Options include live capture or kill traps. When trapping for feral cats you need to be careful to avoid trapping domestic cats. Live capture traps include any secure box or trap so that it is safe to use around residential areas. Note: the Animal Welfare Act 1999 requires that all live capture traps must be inspected within 12 hours of sunrise the following day. Kill traps can be used in a variety of situations outside of residential areas. Kill traps include Timms, Conibear or Steve Allan traps. Bait with fish or cat food.
Contact Northland Regional Council Biosecurity staff for more trapping information and where you can use and buy traps.
Feral cats can be very difficult to trap as they are naturally cautious and a previous bad experience will make them shy. Sometimes it is best to fix the door open for two or three nights until the cat is comfortable entering the trap, before actually setting it. Do not attempt to touch or pick up a wildcat, or even a kitten. They bite and scratch and can spread disease. See a doctor if you get bitten by a cat.
Northland Regional Council supports responsible cat ownership which includes microchipping, de-sexing and keeping cats contained at night. These actions all have a positive impact on cat health, cats as a disease vector and biodiversity protection. Northland Regional Council encourages the use of live capture traps in urban areas so microchipped domestic cats can be distinguished from feral or stray cats by the SPCA or by veterinary clinics.