Feral cat

Common name:  Feral cat
Scientific name:  Felis catus
Management programme:  Site-led


When we say feral cats, we do not mean just any cat that has gone wandering and especially not anyone’s beloved pet. There is a dark-side to the cat community; under our pest plan feral cats are defined as cats that are wild or otherwise unmanaged and have none of their needs provided by humans.

In ORC’s pest plan, feral cats have been identified as a threat to the biodiversity values in our site-led programmes on the Otago Peninsula, the West Harbour/Mt Cargill area and Quarantine and Goat islands.

These are the only areas where pest status applies to feral cats under our pest plan for Otago.

Why are they a pest?

Feral cats are only considered as pests under our plan in our site-led programmes in Dunedin. They have been branded as ‘the ultimate predators’ in New Zealand and have been nominated as among 100 of the 'World's Worst' invaders. New Zealand’s unique native wildlife is particularly vulnerable to predation by cats. Feral cats kill young and adult birds and occasionally take eggs, prey on native lizards, fish, frogs and large invertebrates. 

Feral cats can be responsible in a small way for the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis, with the potential to infect cattle. They also carry parasites and toxoplasmosis (a parasitic disease) that causes abortions in sheep and illness in humans.

Feral and stray cats can be aggressive towards pet cats. Through fighting they cause severe injuries, sometimes resulting in the pet cat having to be put down. Stray cats are likely to interbreed with the unneutered domestic cat population and may spread infectious diseases.

Management of feral cats not only helps our biodiversity but helps keep your fluffy pet safer. Responsible cat ownership includes microchipping, de-sexing and keeping cats contained at night. These actions all have a positive impact on cat health, biodiversity protection and reduces the potential for feral cats to spread diseases.

What do they look like?

Feral cats can be similar to domestic cats in both size and colour. Adult male cats are generally larger than the females and can weigh up to 5kg. They tend to be solitary and territorial compared to domestic stray or unwanted cats that tend to form colonies. Feral cats are mainly active at night and can be found in a wide range of urban, rural and forest habitats. Their diet is wide-ranging and includes small mammals, fish, birds and invertebrates. They have 2-3 litters per year with an average of four young in each.

What are the rules?

Under Otago’s pest plan, feral cats are only classified as a pest in the site-led areas; Otago Peninsula, West Harbour/Mt Cargill, Quarantine Island and Goat Island.

The goal is to assist communities in site-led areas to sustainably control feral cats in these areas to prevent or improve on damage to the indigenous ecosystem values at these sites.

There is only one rule for feral cats that applies to the site-led areas and that is that no one can keep, hold, enclose or otherwise harbour feral cats in these areas. You also can’t bring them into the site-led areas.

How will we achieve that?

ORC will take a lead role in supporting the goals of community groups and agencies in site-led areas in relation to feral cats. This may be through advice, education, funding, service delivery or requiring landowners to undertake control when needed.

Management programme