Author: Olivia Carson
In New Zealand, conservation is a crucial tool used to maintain our unique ecosystem. But are our beloved feline friends undoing conservation’s hard work? Cats enjoy preying on some of New Zealand’s endemic species, such as birds like the kiwi, kererū and tui, reptiles like skinks, geckos and tuatara or invertebrates like weta. Statistics show that cats are having an impact on our native fauna, so is it time to revise programs which enable this behaviour to continue?
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a management technique used in New Zealand (NZ) by participating SPCA clinics whereby wild free-roaming cats, of all ages, are being humanely captured, spayed, and health checked. Upon completion, they are returned to their original habitat where their presence is approved, or they are put up for adoption if they are seen fit for domestication (Levy, et al., 2013). Former SPCA National President, Bob Kerridge, and the majority of NZ’s SPCAs support TNR as it aids in the welfare of, “sick, injured, lost, abused or simply abandoned cats” and it leads to an eventual decrease in the wild cat population (Auckland SPCA, 2016). However, this support is rivalled with opposition from The Department of Conservation (DOC) and conservation minister, Maggie Barry, who in 2015 called for the SPCA to stop the programme altogether, claiming it was destructive to native birds (Smith, 2015). Throughout this article the positive and negative implications of TNR will be explored, arguing that from a conservationist’s perspective, this program, along with feral and stray cats need to go.
Cats are categorised by their behavioural differences, whether they are domestic, stray or feral. Domestic cats are those who live with an owner and depend on humans for their care and welfare. A stray cat is one who was once a domesticated animal but has become lost or abandoned and has their needs indirectly supplied to them by humans or their environment. Feral cats are born and raised in the wild and have few of their needs provided by people and tend to live away from centres of human habitation (Farnworth, et al., 2010). One behaviour which these cats share is their instinct to kill, with studies nationwide showing that many of NZ’s endangered species have targets on their backs.
The debate on whether cats should be classified as pests is strongly controversial. 48% of households in NZ accommodate at least one cat, showing that us Kiwis have a real love for these furry creatures (Mckay, et al., 2009). DOC, on the other hand, consider cats as pests, due to their negative impacts on our native species (Abbott, 2008). This begs the question, why are programmes such as TNR supporting the release of these homeless and undomesticated cats back into the wild?
There are many reasons to support the use of TNR. In Rome, Italy, a study on a long-term TNR programme showed that cat colonies decreased by up to 24% over a 6-year period, demonstrating that loss of reproductive ability has a marked effect on the reduction of the number of unwanted kittens (Natoli, et al., 2006). Furthermore, by returning the cat to the environment after veterinary attention, it allowed them to continue using their hunting instincts towards decreasing mammalian pest populations. The same methodology can be applied to NZ as mammalian pests, such as mice and rats are also known to feast on New Zealand’s native species (Towns & Broome, 2003). Therefore, it could be reasoned that if cats were removed altogether from the ecosystem, it might experience a decline in native wildlife due to a rise in the rodent population.
The introduction of cats to NZ has seen some unfortunate outcomes for native species, which underwent evolution during a period where mammalian predators were non-existent (Norbury, et al., 2014). Domestic, stray and feral cats have all contributed to the extinction of 40% of NZ endemic birds (Sijbranda, et al., 2016). In 1894, a single cat was able to completely wipe out an entire species of Stephen’s Island Wren, who were thought to be taking refuge from mammalian pests on Stephen’s Island (Galbreath & Brown, 2004). This reinforces how destructive one cat, who may be from a TNR programme can be.
The average cat kills approximately 65 creatures a year (van Heezik, et al., 2010). Rats, one of NZ’s most devastating pests, arguably contribute just as much damage, along with ferrets, stoats, weasels and possums. Both government and territorial authorities use alternatives to TNR to control these predators which meet humane standards for example poison and traps. It could be debated that although a less favourable outcome for cats, instead of the SPCA spending money on neutering and providing medical attention, it could be considered more humane to euthanise. Recognising this will stop cats from having an unloved life on the street and ensures that no native animals will come to their demise in the future.
If TNR was terminated, then continued pest management would be essential. Instead of neutering and releasing trapped stray and feral cats, they would need to be humanely euthanised. Continued management would also benefit the eradication of the other pests which cats may prey on. New Zealand aims to have a pest-free ecosystem by 2050 and the Government, iwis, and regional councils are showing their support to this cause by providing approximately $70 million annually towards predator control (The Department of Conservation, 2014). This sum would continue to benefit pest management if TNR was stopped. There are humane pest control options which could be better advertised to the public (Goodnature and Victor professional traps), which may increase support, reinforcing that we don’t need cat input to sort our pest problem, just people’s support.
The negative consequences of having stray and feral cats in our environment far outweigh the positives. Most cat owners are reasonable people, agreeing that measures such as mandatory microchipping, registration and compulsory neutering, would allow for better care of future stray cats. If people complied with these rules, then stray cats could be returned to their owners. We don’t need to remove our much-loved pets altogether, but our native fauna needs protection too, the ones that define us as a nation, and for this to be achievable, TNR must go. TNR currently undermines conservation practices by allowing destructive animals to continue to roam freely. If it weren’t for cats “most-loved” status, it wouldn’t be an issue, as we don’t see rats being neutered and returned to the wild, do we?
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Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. It was the world’s first federally protected natural area. Located in Wyoming, the park spans 2.2 million acres and is known for its geothermal features, such as the Old Faithful geyser (NPS, 2017). There are over 400 species of animals including bears, bison and wolves, as well as over 1100 native plant species (Frank & McNaughton, 1992). Along with the wide range of diverse plant and animal species, Yellowstone has a long history of human habitation. If ‘pristine wilderness’ is defined as remaining in a pure state without human alteration (YourDictionary, 2017), can Yellowstone be considered pristine?
In 1870 when the nine members of the Washburn party embarked on the first official expedition of Yellowstone, they dismissed any signs of human habitation, describing it as primeval wilderness “never trodden by human footsteps” (Schullery & Whittlesey, 2003)(Spence, 1999). Sightings of Native Americans from the Shoshone, Blackfeet, Crow and Bannock tribes, were dismissed as they were considered “vanishing Indians” (Spence, 1999). Henry Washburn and Nathaniel Langford, leaders of the party, officially declared the area to be pristine wilderness (Spence, 1999).
Yellowstone clearly wasn’t untouched by humans, even before it was declared a national park. Rather, it was an area that had been moulded by thousands of years of human habitation and use (Spence, 1999). Evidence of this dates back to over 11,000 years ago when Paleo-Indian groups moved into the area at the end of the last ice age (Spence, 1999). Small bands of hunter/gatherers made use of the area leaving behind evidence of potsherds and obsidian quarries. These groups also altered their environment utilising controlled burns to maintain plant and animal habitats for agricultural purposes (Spence, 1999).
The idea of pristine wilderness preceded the creation of Yellowstone. The ‘myth of wilderness’ is a cultural creation that came about through the romanticism of nature. The roots of this idea can be traced back to the writings of John Muir (Friskics, 2008). He described wilderness as a sacred space, ingraining upon the American mind the superiority of pristine wilderness rather than the coexistence between humans and nature (Marris, 2011). This seeming superiority of pristine wilderness was such a powerful idea that evidence of human habitation was often ignored.
Another philosophy, known as Cartesian dualism, was also serving to separate humans from nature during that period. Cartesian dualism is a western view that deemed nature as inferior along with indigenous people who remained entwined with it and its existence was for human consumption and control (Haila, 2000). Thus, to conserve naturally pure areas it was thought that humans needed to be removed from nature, resulting in the eviction of all four native tribes inhabiting Yellowstone in 1879.
The majority of scientists today would likely claim that national parks are not historically pristine. Humans are so deeply involved in the management and visitation of these sites. In 2012, 3.4 million people visited Yellowstone (NPS, 2017). Ecosystems within the park are managed, monitored and even altered. For instance, the Grey Wolf was hunted to extinction through a predator control program in 1926, only to bring it back by way of reintroduction in 1995 (Smith et al, 2003).
Yellowstone exists as a “public park … for the benefit and enjoyment of people”; it does not exist to be safeguarded from them.
There are very few landscapes that could still be considered pristine; perhaps none. Those that haven’t been altered directly by humans are now being affected by anthropogenic climate change.
We must rethink what pristine means at an environmental level.
A present day pristine environment could now be considered a “functioning ecosystem, largely intact and minimized human impacts” (Cronon, 1996). Many areas have been disturbed only to recover later. These areas display no obvious signs of human impacts; perhaps these are as pristine as it gets. These places contain plant and animal species that would be there in the absence of habitat loss, hunting, invasive species and other human-driven threats (Cronon, 1996).
Yellowstone, like all other national parks can’t be considered a pristine environment even by today’s definitions. Given the long history of human habitation, continued management, and the maintenance of the park for human enjoyment, it is anything but untouched. However, this doesn’t mean that it should be valued any less than actual pristine environments. If only truly pristine environments are worth protecting, we would have nothing left. Yellowstone contains a high diversity and density of our plants and animals worldwide (Waller (edt), 2012). Non-pristine environments like parks are often more accessible and are therefore the ones that humans will interact with and value greater. Gaining appreciation for nature whether it be pristine or not and if we are part of it or not will motivate future generations to protect it.
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Frank, D. A. (1992). The Ecology of Plants, Large Mammalian Herbivores, and Drought in Yellowstone National Park. Ecology, 73(6), 2043-2058.
Friskics, S. (2008). The Twofold Myth of Pristine Wilderness: Misreading the Wilderness Act in Terms of Purity . Environmental Ethics, 381-399.
Haila, Y. (2000). Beyond the Nature-Culture Dualism. Biology and Philosophy, 15(2), 155-175.
Marris, E. (2011). The Yellowstone Model. In E. Marris, Rambunctious Garden (pp. 17-37). New York: Bloomsbury.
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Smith, D. W. (2003). Yellowstone after Wolves . BioScience, 53(4), 330-340.
Spence, M. (1999). Before the Wilderness: Native Peoples and Yellowstone. In M. Spence, Dispossessing the wilderness: Indian removal and the making of the national parks (pp. 41-54). New York: Oxford Press.
Spence, M. D. (2000). Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks. In M. Spence, Dispossessing the wilderness . New York: Oxford Press.
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Figure 1: Retrieved 29th April 2017, from: http://www.yellowstonepark.com/yellowstone-sheepeater-tribe-ledgend/.
Figure 2: Retrieved 29th April 2017, from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2991863/Shocking-photos-reveal-destruction-Yellowstone-National-Park-hot-spring-tourists-throwing-coins-luck.html.
“[We must] think beyond our boundaries, beyond ethnic and religious grounds and beyond nations in our global quest for a just world that values and conserves nature.”
– HM Queen Noor of Jordan, opening address at the Vth World Parks Congress, Durban, September 2003
Transboundary Protected Areas (TBPAs), emerging tools for conservation management, hold great potential for the protection and maintenance of biological diversity on the global scale. Originally classified as areas of protected land that cross over a national boundary, the definition of TBPAs has since been expanded to include:
- two or more contiguous protected areas across a national boundary;
- a cluster of protected areas and the intervening land;
- a cluster of separated protected areas without intervening land;
- a transborder area including proposed protected areas; and
- a protected area in one country aided by sympathetic land use over the border
(United Nations Environment Programme)
These cross-boundary protected areas are usually expansive, which can be essential for increasing landscape connectivity and restoring natural habitats. They also allow for greater control over border-specific conservation issues, such as invasive species, illegal trade and poaching, and the reestablishment of large species (UNEP-WCMC).
The concept of TBPAs has gained in popularity over recent years. The number of TBPAs has increased significantly from 59 in 1988 to over 200 in 2007 (Schoon, n.d.). Although the number of TBPAs has improved, our understanding of their success in conserving biodiversity has not. There is a gap in our knowledge, because there is a lack of studies dedicated to monitoring the success of these cross-boundary conservation efforts (Sandwith et al. 2005).How is it that the conservation success of an internationally recognized management tool has been so under-studied?
The Nature of Peace
The very first TBPA was signed into existence in 1924 by Poland and Czechoslovakia under the Krakow Protocol, which “pioneered the concept of international cooperation in establishing border parks.” These protected areas were regarded as a way to reconnect and protect a natural landscape that happened to be divided by an international border, and although international cooperation was vital to their success, the theory of “fostering peace through nature” was not specified as a goal of their formation (Schoon, n.d.). However, over time, the prospect of fostering peace between conflicting nations began to emerge as a key motive for the creation of TBPAs. In 1932, the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park was established in North America as the first officially declared international peace park. The peace park was dedicated to formally “commemorate the bonds of peace and friendship” between the United States and Canada. The London Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State was signed the following year, which boosted interest in transboundary conservation and called for cross-border cooperation when founding protected areas near political and physical borders (Chester, 2006). Many TBPAs were established in the following years, including the de facto transboundary parks that arose from African national parks following the independence and separation of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)(Mittermeier et al. 2005).
The array of economic and socio-political benefits that were achieved through cross-boundary cooperation quickly became clear. The term Parks for Peace (or peace parks) started to be used almost interchangeably with Transboundary Protected Areas, and many TBPAs began to be designed to promote goodwill and peace across international boundaries through the conservation of nature (Chester, 2006). There are numerous reports and studies on the socio-political and economic success of cross-boundary partnerships, which is likely to be the reason for their recent popularity (Ali, 2011, & Mittermeier et al. 2005).
Getting Back to Nature
There are two major explanations for why TBPAs are expected to be effective tools for large-scale conservation. First, the commonly large size of TBPAs allows for landscape connectivity across areas that would otherwise be separated by political, social and/or physical boundaries. This connection allows for the uninhibited movement of flora, fauna and ecological processes through the natural landscape (Chassot, n.d.). This can improve the integration of previously separated populations, enable increases in migration, and allow for range adjustment in response to climate change (McCallum et al. n.d.). On a landscape scale, it can also minimize the effects of land use and restore natural habitats. Second, basing management efforts on natural delineations instead of political ones can result in conservation-focused strategies that are more comprehensive and holistic. By pooling the physical, monetary and intellectual resources of two or more countries, the management practices can become more efficient. This can also minimize the impact of border-specific issues, such as invasive species, poaching, and smuggling (McCallum et al. n.d.).
The success of conservation projects is usually measured through follow-up studies on the status of the flora, fauna or ecosystem undergoing mitigation, manipulation or protection. These surveys not only indicate how successful the conservation practices have been, but can also provide insight into how the methods can be altered to improve the effectiveness of the project for this location or a new conservation effort. However, there is a lack of analysis and interpretation of the conservation success of TBPAs – most writing about these protected areas has not been supported by case studies or baseline information (Sandwith et al. 2005). Questions emerge about the ecological effectiveness of TBPAs, the efficiency of TBPAs, and the ability of transboundary conservation initiatives to successfully integrate protection of habitats and biodiversity with the promotion of peace and cooperation (Wolmer, 2004). Is it always necessary to have large, adjoining protected areas across boundaries, or might corridors between existing protected areas be more efficient (Wolmer, 2003)? The many types of TBPAs identified hold very different management and monetary requirements, so without analysis of success it is difficult to prescribe the correct TBPA type with the situation at hand. It is possible that by integrating conservation and socio-economic development programs, one or both of the objectives may suffer (Wolmer, 2004).
Though a shortage of TBPA-specific evidence exists, there are a few relevant projects that provide reason to remain optimistic that transboundary conservation efforts have been, and will continue to be, successful. A transboundary conservation project that integrated the ecosystem management of Kabo-Pokola-Loundoungou forest and the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in central Africa offers a comprehensive review of the project’s success. A formal management system was implemented to ease communication between the Government of Congo, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), a logging company using the forests adjacent to Nouabale-Ndoki National Park.
CIB improved its social and economic standings, while the local communities gained opportunities for employment within the project (Ali, 2011). Several post-implementation studies were undertaken to evaluate the success of the project in terms of fauna distribution. Some of the major findings were that mean species abundance and populations of elephants and gorillas benefited from changes in logging patterns and anti-poaching interventions (Clark et al. 2009, & Stokes, 2010). Although the boundary in this case study was not of political means, the goals and structure of the project are identical to those of international TBPAs. By focusing more efforts on the monitoring of conservation efficacy in TBPAs, there will be a baseline of data with the potential to support further development of cross-boundary protected areas.
Making Peace With Nature
Although it may prove difficult to measure the conservation outcomes of TBPAs, due to an inherent lack of comparable regions and their typically large areas, it is essential to know how effective TBPAs are at meeting their conservation goals. With an increase in political diversity and the diversity of solutions available within conservation projects, there is the potential for major impacts on global biodiversity. The range of TBPA types, from the politically intensive (two or more contiguous protected areas across a national boundary) to the relaxed (a cluster of separated protected areas without intervening land), could provide options that allow for a shift of focus from the outcomes of socio-economic collaborations to the wellbeing of the species and ecosystems involved. The ideal of fostering peace through nature is well researched and is a reasonable mission for TBPAs, as long as we uphold our goal of making peace with nature.
“I know of no political movement, no philosophy, no ideology, which does not agree with the peace parks concept as we see it going into fruition today. It is a concept that can be embraced by all. “
– Nelson Mandela, cofounder of Peace Parks Foundation
Melanie C. Berger is currently undergoing the Masters of Conservation Biology program jointly taught by Victoria University of Wellington in Wellington, New Zealand, and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. She graduated with an ScB in Biology (with a focus on Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) from Brown University in 2013. She has worked as an Environmental Educator for the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and with the Student Conservation Association and AmeriCorps. She is interested in broadening her knowledge of biogeography, ecology, and conservation biology while making a lasting contribution in these fields. You can learn more about her on her website.
For a Comprehensive View of Transboundary Protected Areas:
For Further Information:
Ali, S. H. (2011). Transboundary Conservation and Peace-building: Lessons from forest biodiversity conservation projects. International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS).
Chassot, O. (n.d.). Ecological issues – transboundary conservation. TBPA.com. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from http://www.tbpa.net/page.php?ndx=46
Chester, C. (2006). Transboundary protected areas. In Encyclopedia of the Earth (online). Available at: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Transboundary_protected_areas.
Clark, C. J., Poulsen, J. R., Malonga, R., Elkan Jr., P. W. (2009). Logging Concessions can extend the estate for Central African tropical forests. Conservation Biology, 23(5), 1281-93.
Kormos, C. F., Mittermeier, C. G., Gil, P. R., Sandwith, T., & Besancon, C. (2005). Transboundary conservation: a new vision for protected areas. Cemex.
McCallum, J., Schoon, M. (n.d.). Ecological benefits and costs of Transboundary Conservation Areas (TBCA). TBPA.com. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from http://www.tbpa.net/page.php?ndx=52
Sandwith, T., & Besancon, C. (2005). Trade-offs among multiple goals for transboundary conservation. Unpublished. http://theislamistsarecoming.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Besancon_Sandwith.pdf
Schoon, M. (n.d.). Brief History of Transboundary Protected Areas. TBPA.com. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from http://www.tbpa.net/page.php?ndx=17
Stokes, E. J., Strindberg, S., Bakabana, P. C., Elkan, P. W., Iyenguet, F. C., et al. (2010). Monitoring Great Ape and Elephant Abundance at Large Spatial Scales: Measuring Effectiveness of a Conservation Landscape. PLoS ONE, 5(4).
Wolmer, W. (2003). Transboundary Conservation: The Politics of Ecological Integrity in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park*. Journal of Southern African Studies, 29:1, 261-278.
Wolmer, W. (2004). Tensions and paradoxes in the management of Transboundary Protected Areas. Policy Matters, 13, pp 137-146.