Humanimal – Daily life of the vegetarian #18
GARETH MORGAN IS right about cats.
It’s true that introduced carnivores such as cats can and do play havoc with New Zealand’s indigenous wildlife.
And he’s right that over time, we should look at phasing out cats: domestic, feral, wild, the lot.
Yes, Gareth Morgan is right. But he’s also a contemptible knob.
Protecting and saving what’s left of New Zealand’s natural habitat and its creatures should be of paramount concern to all residents and citizens.
Morgan’s campaign obviously came about through a desire to do just that.
But while Morgan and his cat-catching friends may have the ecology of the country in mind, they’re not even starting to see the wood for the trees on this issue.
Unfortunately, neither is the SPCA (especially its executive director, Bob Kerridge) whose woolly-headed thinking about pets gives Morgan and his cronies a target of ridicule that could inadvertently strengthen their case in the minds of the public.
I can see where Morgan is coming from: he knew it was important to polarise so he could get maximum traction for his anti-cat campaign, and the only way to get the media covering his ecology initiative was to attack it from a controversial angle.
Sadly, in doing so Morgan has perpetuated and sought to legitimise the standard, flawed paradigm that puts the human at the centre of the universe.
At least he sees the human as protector of his playground, but he’s ignorant of the one thing that humans are capable of that can really make a difference: compassion for all forms of life.
Personally, I find it more difficult to rustle up compassion for Morgan and his ridiculous XXL moustache and his shocking pronunciation of common species of words [note intentional mangling of English] than for the infamous feline killer. (Can’t the government find enough cash to send Morgan and Key to charm school? Mary Poppins would have her work cut out, but…)
The trouble with those who would protect New Zealand from all forms of invasive animal life is that they don’t really have compassion or respect for those indigenous species to begin with. Efforts at conservation may have come a long way since the colonial era, but the 21st century attitude isn’t really that different. We still seek to control and exploit and manage “our” resources, and if a species is plentiful, no compassion is shown towards it. We just have to look at big game fishing or the various forms hunting takes in the NZ bush for verification of our blithe disregard for the natural right of an animal to live its life, without the omnipresent threat of being chased, tortured, shot and butchered for human entertainment.
Let’s not forget that it’s Morgan who openly supports exploiting the reserves of the Antarctic for the Antarctic Toothfish against overwhelming evidence that to do so may cause yet more oceanic catastrophe.
If Morgan was genuinely compassionate to animals – and I include humans in that definition – he wouldn’t have launched a campaign that encourages “concerned” neighbours to trap wandering cats, when everyone knows moggies’ territories don’t conform to the strict parameters of small suburban sections. If Morgan really cared, he would show some concern for the elderly, for some of whom cat companionship is all they have, because they’ve been abandoned by offspring with 21st century ambition and little concern for family; he would also acknowledge the fact that, for the most part, cats are really loved by their humans.
But no, Morgan isn’t concerned that a few old ladies might be heart-broken when some chap down the road traps and kills the animal her life revolves around. He’s a “big picture” kind of guy, a real Kiwi bloke.
And he’s certainly not concerned that he may have fudged the facts, or ignored others, to make his presentation seem that much better.
Morgan’s claim that “all cats” are killers is just stupid, and dull. My two cats – both of whom came to me as abandoned, half-starved strays – have very different natures. The younger of the two has pronounced stalking instincts, but in two years he hasn’t caught a single native bird – just a few sparrows. The older cat mostly lives indoors, and has never caught a bird. When younger, she favoured mice; now, at middle age, she’s happy with provided cat food. Morgan’s hypothesis also ignores the fact that if a responsible owner plays with their cat each day, then the cat gets its need to stalk, pounce and bite taken care of, in the same way that a human can watch a vengeance movie and have their desire for real-life vengeance satiated.
Take A Step Back
Okay, so how is it, exactly, that Gareth Morgan got it so wrong about cats?
It would take a brave or foolish individual to claim that feral and wild cats aren’t responsible for carnage in New Zealand bush. It’s clear that populations of feral and wild cats do prey on our helpless native birds although, as some have pointed out, cats mostly prey on other introduced predators like mice and rats, which themselves do much more damage to native birdlife than cats.
But let’s not get into a debate about the lesser of several evils.
Let’s look instead at where feral cats come from: irresponsible owners.
Wherever I’ve lived in NZ, I’ve always encountered cat owners who couldn’t be bothered getting their animals ‘fixed’. Some brutes used tried and trusted kitten extermination techniques like drowning, but clearly, all too often, unwanted cats are dumped, and then run wild.
If there were incentives for cat owners to eliminate breeding (vet fees are preposterous), then harsh penalties could be imposed when someone refuses to do so.
Eventually, the domestic cat population would naturally die out, and humans would miss out on that special friendship that cats give us, but with the knowledge that local birdlife was benefitting.
Demonisation Of Animals
The big problem with the official environmental bodies is that they demonise certain types of animals – introduced predators – so that the public can think of them as merely “pests”, and not care about their destruction.
The facts are at odds with this. Possums, for instance, are lovely creatures, and they are adored in Australia, their native land. Here, they’re considered as the lowest of the low, which makes us think it’s perfectly okay to do whatever we like to them. We are not allowed to even consider the idea of showing the humble possum a bit of compassion.
It’s time to take a fresh look at “pests” and what to do about them.
Instead of spending millions on big drops of toxic pesticides, why don’t we capture without killing, and ship at least some of them back to their native countries? We could keep the rest contained in an area where they weren’t destructive to the native environment. This would be showing some genuine compassion to animals that deserve their lives as much as we do, and who have been demonised simply because they were unlucky enough to have been born here. Not to forget: humans brought their forefathers here in the first place.
Back To Cats
Yes, Morgan was right about one thing.
But I don’t think domestic cats who have responsible human friends are any real threat to the environment, and animal companions can teach humans a lot – but let’s not get into that here.
The perpetuation of cats (and especially) dogs as pets, however, also perpetuates an industry that literally feeds on the meat industry. I don’t eat meat, and I would prefer not to be affiliated with that death industry in any way. The big irony is that, to sustain the health of my much-loved cats, I have to purchase meat-based cat food. Some might claim that vegan cat and dog food does the trick, but I don’t see how it could. Cats are, of course, dedicated carnivores, and while they get some plant nutrition by consuming the stomach contents of the animals they eat, well… that’s about it.
The fact that it’s unnatural for cats not to eat meat, and for me, unethical to eat meat, provides a massive dilemma.
Then there’s the basis of the cat-human relationship itself. We’re kidding ourselves if we think for a moment that it’s natural for cats to be around humans. But we’ll save that conversation for another time, too.
In the meantime, Gareth Morgan – supreme knob with a preposterous moustache – can go take a hike, preferably deep into the bush he loves so much. Hopefully, there he’ll stumble into an animal trap, and while he’s lying there in agony, waiting the long wait for a rescue helicopter, maybe he’ll ponder the inherent inhumanity of his attitudes. GARY STEEL