6:16pm

Thu January 24, 2013
The Two-Way

New Zealand Environmentalist Wants To Eliminate Cats To Save Birds

Originally published on Fri January 25, 2013 9:22 am

Gareth Morgan hasn't said he's a dog person, but he's definitely not a cat person. Morgan, a top New Zealand economist and environmentalist, is campaigning for a cat-free country.

In an interview with The New York Times, Morgan said "cats are a 'friendly neighborhood serial killer' of birds."

On his website, Cats to Go, Morgan claims that cats have contributed to the extinction of nine native species of birds and another 33 are endangered.

In order to eliminate cats on the island, Morgan has four steps, which he outlined to The Atlantic in an email interview:

1. "All cats to be registered chipped and neutered — raising the barriers to cat ownership to those similarly already faced by dog owners. Chipping instead of collars is because cats more easily slip collars. [Ed: Chipping, or micro-chipping, means inserting an implant under the skin for identification.]
2. "Citizens to be encouraged to cage-trap cats wandering on their properties and turn them in to the local authority.
3. "Cats surrendered to the local authority Pound, to be euthanized if unregistered, to return to registered owner who is fined.
4. "Councils to offer free disposal of cats. Vets are prohibitively expensive."

After cats have been 'disposed of,' households would be encouraged not to obtain another pet thus ending the population of kiwi kitties as we know it."

But his argument to eliminate felines isn't widely accepted: According to Morgan's website, only 24 percent of people have said that they will not replace their current cat. The public reaction has been fairly negative, too. A lot of people have jumped to the conclusion that Morgan wants people to kill their pets.

Others still think that it's not possible and costly .

But he has gained some support and some people, even in the science community, are considering it.

But New Zealanders won't be quick to get rid of their beloved pets anyway. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals website, New Zealand has the most cat owners (as a percentage of the human population) in the world. About 28 percent of New Zealand households have one or more cats. All told, there are an estimated 1.4 million feline pets in the country. New Zealand's human population is about 4.5 million.

Cats first gained popularity in ancient Egypt: they were considered sacred animals and were worshipped. An Egyptian goddess of love, Bastet, even had the head of a cat. Killing a cat could result in a death sentence. Similarly in ancient Rome, cats were considered a symbol of liberty and in the east, cats were valued as excellent pest exterminators.

But then during the medieval ages, Europeans started hating cats. They associated the once treasured animal as the devil and cats were killed to ward off evil. Lucky for our feline friends, humans have moved away from these beliefs.

(Lizzy Duffy is an intern on NPR's Social Media Desk.)

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