Pet owners are increasingly bringing cats and dogs to parasite-free islands, where they can destroy fragile native animals, according to the Department of Conservation.
In the Bay of Islands, Ranger Helen Ough Dealy said dogs are often brought to the protected islands, especially during the summer. But the owners had also been caught walking their cats on a leash and with cats on a paddle board.
The Rangers were also finding more and more boats moored on parasite-free islands with cats living on board, despite the risk of them reaching shore.
Ough Dealy said that a single cat or dog could cause massive damage to populations of birds or insects that precariously recover in a very short period of time, killing or injuring animals or destroying their nests.
“Two or three years ago there was a report of someone with a sulfur crested cockatoo, who was one of their pets, that they had brought on their boat and then took him away. on the island.
“The problem isn’t so much that birds kill other rare species, it’s that they can be carriers of disease.”
A cat that fell overboard from a boat was not reported and spent 4.5 months running around in the wild on an uncontrolled island.
“The owners thought he had drowned, so it wasn’t a problem for them. But it was an island that had tīeke, saddleback, that had just been reintroduced; they feed on the land sometimes, they are not only in trees or flying, and therefore are very vulnerable.
“[The cat] he actually walked into a restaurant because he got his paw in his collar, so we saw him and were able to grab him and get him off the island. They can survive and survive, they fall overboard and then swim ashore. And you have to ask, what did this cat eat during that time? “
Ough Dealy said some owners knowingly ignored the rules on the protected islands, some ignored them and many believed their animal was not the type to hunt wildlife or would not be able to do damage on a leash .
Owners often didn’t spot wildlife until their pet got it, and even the presence of predators could stress delicate breeding populations and scare some birds away from their eggs.
“The New Zealand dotterel, for example, there are less than 2000 left in the world, and we have a large part of that population in the Bay of Islands, and for a dotterel to be afraid of the nest or go away. nest and leave the eggs vulnerable to heat or cold, which means the breeding season is over for this bird.
“So you have to wait until next year for this bird to produce more young,” she said.
A survey carried out on Urupukapuka Island, near Russell, had shown that visitors did not want dogs there because they wanted to enjoy the calm of the islands.
Ough Dealy said the dogs that landed on beaches from boats were almost always full of excitement and that she had seen them come loose time and time again.
“One incident that stays in my mind is seeing a very large dog brought to the beach in a dinghy, then a small child who must be around five years old, supposed to keep this dog under control on the beach – and that would have been a very large dog even for an adult to handle.
“There was no way that was going to happen, the dog very quickly pulled away from the child and rushed to the beach.
The increasing number of pets brought to the islands was like a kick in the guts when huge efforts were put into recovery efforts, she said.
“It’s very upsetting, because a lot of people don’t realize the efforts to protect these rare species. Not just the hours and hours that Department of Conservation staff go to trying to protect these rare species – but it’s the community groups that fundraise and go through all the transfer processes.
“They can have an impact and damage all the work that is being done to try to restore these islands, and the amazing taonga that are out there … to have their passion and their work and so forth potentially ruined very quickly,” it’s very upsetting to watch that. “
Richard Robbins is Managing Director of Project Island Song, a partnership to restore native birds, plants and animals to an archipelago of seven protected islands in the eastern Bay of Islands that have been pest free since 2009.
He said people are encouraged to visit and enjoy the islands, but not bring pets, which could wipe out much of their hard-earned earnings.
“We have volunteers who donate thousands of hours a year to help restore the islands, and there are important partners; hapū, the project and the Conservation Department, it’s just a huge investment.
“The islands are special, the job we do is to improve and protect the islands forever. People have to understand that we have nesting dowries, kiwis, wētāpunga, and there are other species than we plan to release in the future. “
The group has around 16 species that they plan to reintroduce to the island and have already released the saddleback, North Island robin, brown teal, white head, kākāriki and Duvaucel’s gecko.
On December 9, the group also released 128 wētāpunga, the first in a massive insect reintroduction program that they hope will continue for another three years.
“But if the animals are there and we can’t keep things safe, they could have an effect on the pursuit of future releases,” Robbins said.
He said many conservationists have beloved cats or dogs and understand the bond people have with their pets, but a protected island is not the right place for them.
Ranger Ough Dealy said she believed owners bringing their pets to the islands likely would not have considered their pets’ lives to be in danger as well. The Dog Control Act allows for the destruction of dogs that attack animals, as well as heavy financial penalties and even jail time for owners.
“Keep your pets at home, they’re hunters, that’s the way they are. You’re risking your dog’s life, isn’t it better to take care of your dog.”