The End of Cats: An Interview With the New Zealand Economist Calling to Eliminate All Kitties

"The cat lobby here is just as feral, self-centered and as balmy as your gun lobby is"

Alexis Madrigal/The Atlantic

It might strike you as a sick Internet joke, but Gareth Morgan isn't kidding: The prominent New Zealand economist and environmentalist wants his country 100 percent cat-free and he's willing to go extraordinary lengths to make it a reality.

Cats are a "friendly neighborhood serial killer" of birds and other wildlife, Morgan said in the New York Times. He has called for the neutering of all living cats in New Zealand to ensure that this is the country's last kitty generation and has gone as far as to encourage citizens to set up cage-traps on their properties to snatch wanderers.

We emailed Morgan to ask him about his campaign. A lightly edited transcript of our correspondence is below.

THOMPSON: New Zealand reportedly has the highest cat-ownership rate in the world. How come?

MORGAN: Because we have virtually no obligations on cat owners (bit like you guys with your guns) and so people own them, abandon them, and generally take no responsibility for the unintended consequences of their actions. The most oft-heard and erroneous utterance we get here from cat owners is, "Oh but my pussy only kills rats and mice, he'd never harm a native bird." As you can see this denial verges on explicit stupidity.

Why is it so important to protect bird species that are endangered by New Zealand's cats?

Because our natural environment is arguably our greatest asset. And because the economic value of [our environment] has hardly been capitalized on, and it is continuing to rise at an exponential rate, as the rest of the world cursed by high population density sits in its own nest.

I'm currently in Shanghai where wildlife is at a minimum because of callous disregard -- actually I think they eat cats over here. The environment here is not very pleasant at all, as pollution is horrible. When people ask where I'm from, and I say NZ, they immediately talk about our fantastic environment and how much better it is than theirs. [There was] an article was in the Shanghai Times yesterday on our campaign, and people have shown a lot of interest in the subject. I think they yearn for an environment that is now pretty much lost to them.

In NZ we have a ridiculously large opportunity to monetize our environmental assets and we are letting it slip away, as the government instead eases restrictions on resource exploitation and rolls back protection of our environment. I want to not just raise New Zealanders' consciousness about this but also make them think of the huge economic opportunity we are letting slip through our fingers.

What is your plan to eliminate the NZ cat population?

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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