Snapping Wandering Cats

Hi everybody Nick here. Most of us should be back at work by now after a good break and we hope you feel rested and ready for a stunning 2014. Here’s an update on one of our Enhancing the Halo projects for this year from Geoff Simmons.

Thanks Nick.  One of the projects for this year is the cat camera study. We are aiming to highlight the scale of wandering cats on private property. We are now around halfway through our study and expect to have our results by March. Halo households that don’t own cats have volunteered to have cameras installed in their backyards to track the number of wandering cats trespassing on their property night and day. The cameras are motion activated (ensuring we get lots of pictures of moving trees in windy Wellington), with infrared capability and in built time recorder.


The results we have so far are fascinating. The photos taken at my house in Mount Cook record at least five different cats visiting the property on a regular basis. On any given night there are at least three separate cats visiting the property, and the most was nine unique visits over a 24-hour period.

No rats or mice frequented my garden during the two-week study (a fact that is backed up by my empty DOC 200 trap), however one hedgehog was a frequent visitor.Image 2 Don’t believe their cute reputation – hedgehogs are voracious predators of native wildlife and I will be setting the DOC 200 in the area that the hedgehog was photographed in from now on. But even if I do catch the hedgehog, the most prevalent predator will remain: the cat.

We’ve learnt many interesting things during the pilot phase of this study. Firstly the placement of the camera is crucial. It is essential to find the spot on any property that cats frequent most often. Ideally this will be a corridor that cats use as a thoroughfare or just the place that cats enjoy visiting – sand and boxes are a favourite for example.Image 3

The camera needs to be close enough to the ground to be motion activated, but not so close to the action that the cat can’t be identified.

Turning the photos into data can also be challenging. At night it is not always possible to tell cats apart, and therefore know how many different cats are visiting a property. However with the time record we can get a better idea of how many unique visits are made to each property.

Incidentally, if (like me) you are an avid gardener and are disturbed to find potentially disease-ridden cat faeces in your garden, here is a little trick I have discovered. In an effort to encourage native critters like wetas I have scattered sticks over a portion of my garden. I notice that cats are not visiting that part of my garden any more – it is too unstable underfoot for them to get through. Planting thick undergrowth also helps.Image 1

New Zealand has no legislation for managing cats, in fact the definitions used in the Animal Welfare Act include categories that simply cannot be applied in practice. Cats are effectively above the law, and property owners have no means to prevent cats from wandering on their property, transmitting disease in their faeces and killing the wildlife that some are trying to encourage into their backyards. Enhancing the Halo is not anti-cat, we just want them to be managed in the same way dogs are. This would allow property owners the right to keep cats off their land.