Where's A Pied Piper When You Need One?

New Zealand has an ambitious plan to eliminate invasive weasels, rats, even cats, to save its indigenous birds.

A takahe (Nick Perry / AP)

NEWS BRIEF New Zealand wants to eradicate invasive animals so it can save its indigenous birds.

The predators—weasels, possums, stoats, and rats—were first brought ashore by the Maoris an estimated 700 years ago. The animals are largely responsible for killing birds such as the kiwi and the takahe that live nowhere else in the world.

The government’s plan, announced Monday by Prime Minister John Key, will be one of the first programs to remove an invasive species from an entire country.

“Our ambition is that by 2050 every single part of New Zealand will be completely free of rats, stoats and possums,” Key said in a statement.

New Zealand spends more than $40 million each year fighting invasive species, but they cost the country $2.3 billion through damage to native plants, animals, and through the spread of disease. This new plan would devote an additional $20 million to set up a company to run the rodent-and-weasel-killing program.

One controversy around the plan is the feline problem. Some of New Zealand’s birds evolved to become flightless, and they make easy prey for cats. New Zealanders own more cats per capita than citizens of most other parts of the world. Key himself is a cat-lover; his cat’s name is Moonbeam Smokey Fluffy Key.

Feral cats, Key said, have to go. House cats will be an exception, however, so domesticated pets such as Moonbeam will be safe.