Activity of free-roaming domestic cats in an urban reserve and public perception of pet-related threats to wildlife in New Zealand

  • Christopher K. WoolleyEmail author
  • Stephen Hartley


Across the globe there is an increasing number of initiatives promoting biodiversity in urban areas – both for the benefit of native wildlife and the people who live in cities. In these situations, the role that companion animals, such as cats and dogs, play as predators of wildlife becomes increasingly important. The objectives of this case study were two-fold. Firstly, to investigate activity patterns of domestic cats inside a 75 ha urban reserve; and secondly, to survey the attitudes and beliefs of the community neighbouring the reserve about pet ownership and the threat that domestic cats and dogs may pose to native wildlife. Twelve motion-activated camera traps were triggered by cats 83 times during the 32-day study period. Distance from reserve edge was found to affect the rate of cat detection, with almost six times as many cat-related triggers 25 m from the reserve edge than at 100 m. Distance from the nearest walking track within the reserve had no significant effect on detection rate. The online survey found that the urban reserve is highly valued by the local community for its provision of habitat for native wildlife and, in general, there is strong agreement that the threat cats pose to native wildlife is a problem. Attitudes of cat owners, however, did differ from those of non-owners, especially in their degree of support for suggested solutions. Advocacy and education about the effects of cats on native wildlife may alter the behaviour of cat owners who value native biodiversity, however, these strategies alone are unlikely to persuade pet owners who are not motivated by conservation goals.


Biodiversity value Domestic cats Felis catus Pet ownership Predation Urban biodiversity 



The authors wish to acknowledge Paul Stanley Ward from the Polhill Restoration Project for his support and knowledge of the study site. We also thank Xandra Carroll and S. Vishnu Vardhan for their assistance setting up cameras in the field, Jennifer Vaughan for her work distributing flyers and three anonymous reviewers for their suggestions on this manuscript. Stephen Hartley acknowledges support from MBIE grant UOWX1601, People, Cities and Nature.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This research was carried out with the approval of the Victoria University of Wellington Human Ethics Committee (Approval 23591).


  1. Aaron RF, Witt PA (2011) Urban students’ definitions and perceptions of nature. Child Youth Environ 21:145–167Google Scholar
  2. Anton V, Hartley S, Geldenhuis A, Wittmer HU (2018a) Monitoring the mammalian fauna of urban areas using remote cameras and citizen science. J Urban Eco 4:1–9Google Scholar
  3. Anton V, Hartley S, Wittmer H (2018b) Evaluation of remote cameras for monitoring multiple invasive mammals in New Zealand. N Z J Ecol 42:74–79Google Scholar
  4. Barratt DG (1997) Predation by house cats, Felis catus (L.), in Canberra, Australia. I. Prey composition and preference. Wildl Res 24:263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bengsen A, Butler J (2011) Wildlife research estimating and indexing feral cat population abundances using camera traps. Wildl Res 38:732–739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beutel T, Reineking B, Tiesmeyer A, Nowak C, Heurich M (2017) Spatial patterns of co-occurrence of the European wildcat Felis silvestris silvestris and domestic cats Felis silvestris catus in the Bavarian Forest National Park. Wildl Biol 1:1–8Google Scholar
  7. Blancher P (2013) Estimated number of birds killed by house cats (Felis catus) in Canada. Avian Conservation and Ecology 8(2):3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bonnington C, Gaston KJ, Evans KL (2013) Fearing the feline: domestic cats reduce avian fecundity through trait-mediated indirect effects that increase nest predation by other species. J Appl Ecol 50:15–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brockie RE, Duncan C (2012) Long term trends in Wellington City bird counts: 1969-2006. Notornis 59:1–6Google Scholar
  10. Brook LA, Johnson CN, Ritchie EG (2012) Effects of predator control on behaviour of an apex predator and indirect consequences for mesopredator suppression. J Appl Ecol 49:1278–1286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Calver M, Thomas S (2011) Effectiveness of the liberator in reducing predation on wildlife by domestic cats. Pac Conserv Biol 16:244–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Calver M, Thomas S, Bradley S, McCutcheon H (2007) Reducing the rate of predation on wildlife by pet cats: the efficacy and practicability of collar-mounted pounce protectors. Biol Conserv 137:341–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Calver MC, Grayson J, Lilith M, Dickman CR (2011) Applying the precautionary principle to the issue of impacts by pet cats on urban wildlife. Biol Conserv 144:1895–1901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Charles KE (2012) Tree damage in Wellington as a result of foraging for sap and bark-dwelling invertebrates by the North Island kaka (Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis). Notornis 59:171–175Google Scholar
  15. City of Kingston. (2016). Cat Confinement. Available from Community/Pets/Cat-Ownership/Cat-Confinement. (Accessed July 16, 2017)
  16. Courchamp F, Langlais M, Sugihara G (1999) Control of rabbits to protect island birds from cat predation. Biol Conserv 89:219–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cox DTC, Shanahan DF, Hudson HL, Plummer KE, Siriwardena GM, Fuller RA, Anderson K, Hancock S, Gaston KJ (2017) Doses of neighbourhood nature: the benefits for mental health of living with nature. BioScience 67:147–155Google Scholar
  18. Dearborn DC, Kark S (2010) Motivations for conservation of urban biodiversity. Conserv Biol 24:432–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Doherty TS, Glen AS, Nimmo DG, Ritchie EG, Dickman CR (2016) Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss. Proc Natl Acad Sci 113:11261–11265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Driscoll CA, Menotti-Raymond M, Roca AL, Hupe K, Johnson WE, Geffen E, Harley EH, Delibes M, Pontier D, Kitchener AC, Yamaguchi N, O'Brien SJ, Macdonald DW (2007) The near eastern origins of cat domestication. Science 317:519–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dunn RR, Gavin MC, Sanchez MC, Solomon JN (2006) The pigeon paradox: dependence of global conservation on urban nature. Conserv Biol 20:1814–1816CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Elmhagen B, Rushton SP (2007) Trophic control of mesopredators in terrestrial ecosystems: top-down or bottom-up? Ecol Lett 10:197–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. ESRI (2015) ArcGIS Desktop: Release 10.3.1. Environmental Systems Research Institute, RedlandsGoogle Scholar
  24. Farnworth MJ, Dye NJ, Keown N (2010) The legal status of cats in New Zealand: a perspective on the welfare of companion, stray, and feral domestic cats (). J Appl Anim Welf Sci 13(2):180–188Google Scholar
  25. Feline Rights New Zealand (2015) News. Available from (Accessed August 18, 2016)
  26. Fernández-juricic E, Jokimäki J (2001) A habitat island approach to conserving birds in urban landscapes: case studies from southern and northern Europe. Biodivers Conserv 10:2023–2043CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Flux JEC (2007) Seventeen years of predation by one suburban cat in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 34:289–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Galbreath R, Brown D (2004) The tale of the lighthouse-keeper’s cat: discovery and extinction of the Stephens Island wren (Traversia Iyalli). Notornis 51:193–200Google Scholar
  29. Gordon JK, Matthaei C, Van Heezik Y (2010) Belled collars reduce catch of domestic cats in New Zealand by half. Wildl Res 37:372–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Grayson J, Calver M, Styles I (2002) Attitudes of suburban Western Australians to proposed cat control legislation. Aust Vet J 80:536–543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Greater Wellington Regional Council (2016) Cat monitoring: Otari-Wilton’s Bush case study Unpublished report:9pGoogle Scholar
  32. Hall CM, Fontaine JB, Bryant KA, Calver MC (2015) Assessing the effectiveness of the Birdsbesafe antipredation collar cover in reducing predation on wildlife by pet cats in Western Australia. Appl Anim Behav Sci 173:40–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hall CM, Bryant KA, Haskard K, Major T, Bruce S, Calver MC (2016a) Factors determining the home range of pet cats: a meta-analysis. Biol Conserv 203:313–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hall CM et al (2016b) Community attitudes and practices of urban residents regarding predation by pet cats on wildlife: an international comparison. PLoS One 11:1–31Google Scholar
  35. Hannon ER, Hafernik JE (2007) Reintroduction of the rare damselfly Ischnura gemina (Odonata: Coenagrionidae) into an urban California park. J Insect Conserv 11:141–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kays RW, DeWan AA (2004) Ecological impacts of inside/outside house cats around a suburban nature preserve. Anim Conserv 7:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kikillus KH, Chambers GK, Farnworth MJ, Hare KM (2017) Research challenges and conservation implications for urban cat management in New Zealand. Pac Conserv Biol 23:15–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Krauze-Gryz D, Zmihorski M, Gryz J (2017) Annual variation in prey composition of domestic cats in rural and urban environment. Urban Ecosyst 20:945–952CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lerman SB, Nislow KH, Nowak DJ, DeStefano S, King DI, Jones-Farrand DT (2014) Using urban forest assessment tools to model bird habitat potential. Landsc Urban Plan 122:29–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lilith M, Calver M, Styles I, Garkaklis M (2006) Protecting wildlife from predation by owned domestic cats: application of a precautionary approach to the acceptability of proposed cat regulations. Austral Ecology 31:176–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Linklater WL, Farnworth MJ, van Heezik Y, Stafford KJ, MacDonald EA (2019) Prioritizing cat-owner behaviors for a campaign to reduce wildlife depredation. Conservation Science and Practice 1:e29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Loss SR, Marra PP (2017) Population impacts of free-ranging domestic cats on mainland vertebrates. Front Ecol Environ 15:502–509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Loss SR, Will T, Marra PP (2013) The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nat Commun 4:1–7Google Scholar
  44. Macdonald E, Milfont T, Gavin M (2015) What drives cat-owner behaviour? First steps towards limiting domestic-cat impacts on native wildlife. Wildl Res 42:257–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McArthur N, Flux I, Harvey A, Ray, S (2018) State and trends in the diversity, abundance and distribution of birds in Wellington City. Client report prepared for Greater Wellington Regional Council. Wildlife Management International Ltd, BlenheimGoogle Scholar
  46. McLeod LJ, Hine DW, Please PM, Driver AB (2015) Applying behavioural theories to invasive animal management: towards an integrated framework. J Environ Manag 161:63–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McLeod LJ, Hine DW, Bengsen AJ, Driver AB (2017) Assessing the impact of different persuasive messages on the intentions and behaviour of cat owners: a randomised control trial. Prev Vet Med 146:136–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Metsers EM, Seddon PJ, Van Heezik YM (2010) Cat-exclusion zones in rural and urban-fringe landscapes: how large would they have to be? Wildl Res 37:47–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Miskelly CM (2018) Changes in the forest bird community of an urban sanctuary in response to pest mammal eradications and endemic bird reintroductions. Notornis 65:132–151Google Scholar
  50. Miskelly CM, Powlesland RG (2013) Conservation translocations of New Zealand birds, 1863-2012. Notornis 60:3–28Google Scholar
  51. Morgan SA, Hanson CM, Ross JG, Hickling GJ, Ogilvie SC, Paterson AM (2009) Urban cat (Felis catus) movement and predation activity associated with a wetland reserve in New Zealand. Wildl Res 36:574–580CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Peters MA, Hamilton D, Eames C (2015) Action on the ground: a review of community environmental groups’ restoration objectives, activities and partnerships in New Zealand. N Z J Ecol 39:179–189Google Scholar
  53. Peterson MN, Hartis B, Rodriguez S, Green M, Lepczyk CA (2012) Opinions from the front lines of cat colony management conflict. PLoS One 7:1–7Google Scholar
  54. Prebble J (2015) Polhill Management Plan Unpublished report:37pGoogle Scholar
  55. R Core Team (2013) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  56. Radio New Zealand (2016) Wgtn councillors vote for cat microchip proposal. Available from (Accessed July 16, 2017)
  57. Radio New Zealand (2017) Predator-free in the city. Available from (Accessed March 21, 2019)
  58. Rayner MJ, Hauber ME, Imber MJ, Stamp RK, Clout MN (2007) Spatial heterogeneity of mesopredator release within an oceanic island system. Proc Natl Acad Sci 104:20862–20865CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ruxton GD, Thomas S, Wright JW (2002) Bells reduce predation of wildlife by domestic cats (Felis catus). J Zool 256:81–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Silvertown J (2009) A new dawn for citizen science. Trends Ecol Evol 24:467–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Soulsbury CD, White PCL (2015) Human-wildlife interactions in urban areas: a review of conflicts, benefits and opportunities. Wildl Res 42:541–553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sweetapple P, Nugent G (2011) Chew-track-cards: a multiple-species small mammal detection device. N Z J Ecol 35:153–162Google Scholar
  63. Travaglia M, Miller KK (2018) Cats in the Australian environment: what’s your purr-spective? Aus J Environ Manag 255:153–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Twardek WM, Peiman KS, Gallagher AJ, Cooke SJ (2017) Fido, fluffy and wildlife conservation: the environmental consequences of domesticated animals. Environ Rev 25:381–395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. United Nations (2014) World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/352). United NationsGoogle Scholar
  66. van Heezik Y (2010) Pussyfooting around the issue of cat predation in urban areas. Oryx 44:153–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. van Heezik Y, Seddon P (2018) Animal reintroductions in peopled landscapes: moving towards urban-based species restorations in New Zealand. Pac Conserv Biol, Special IssueGoogle Scholar
  68. van Heezik Y, Smyth A, Adams A, Gordon J (2010) Do domestic cats impose an unsustainable harvest on urban bird populations? Biol Conserv 143:121–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Vieira BP, Fonseca C, Rocha RG (2015) Critical steps to ensure the successful reintroduction of the Eurasian red squirrel. Anim Biodivers Conserv 38:49–58Google Scholar
  70. Wald DM, Jacobson SK, Levy JK (2013) Outdoor cats: identifying differences between stakeholder beliefs, perceived impacts, risk and management. Biol Conserv 167:414–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Walker JK, Bruce SJ, Dale AR (2017) A survey of public opinion on cat (Felis catus) predation and the future direction of cat management in New Zealand. Animals 7:1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Wellington City Council (2015) Our Natural Capital. Wellington’s biodiversity strategy and action plan 2015Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations