Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Cat-exclusion zones in rural and urban-fringe landscapes: how large would they have to be?

Elizabeth M. Metsers A B , Philip J. Seddon A and Yolanda M. van Heezik A

A Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.

B Corresponding author. Email: liz.metsers@gmail.com

Wildlife Research 37(1) 47-56 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR09070
Submitted: 5 June 2009  Accepted: 16 December 2009   Published: 1 March 2010


Context. The process of urban sprawl brings the human population and their domestic cats (Felis catus) in close contact with wildlife in areas that were previously remote, including reserves and conservation areas created to protect populations of vulnerable or threatened species. Various mitigation measures have been proposed, including devices designed to hinder cat hunting ability, desexing to reduce wandering and nuisance behaviours, containment at night or at all times and regulations governing cat ownership. Such regulations may aim to reduce cat densities by limiting the number of cats per household, or they may define zones around sensitive conservation areas where cat ownership is prohibited.

Aims. The present study sought to establish the necessary size of cat-exclusion zones in rural and urban-fringe landscapes where vulnerable prey species may also reside.

Methods. With GPS collars, we tracked 38 domestic cats at three sites (one rural, two urban fringe) where small reserves contained threatened lizard species.

Key results. Home ranges (95% kernel density estimates) were considerably larger for cats at the rural site (0.3–69 ha) than at urban-fringe sites (0.35–19 ha at Kaitorete Spit and 0.2–9 ha at Otago Peninsula), and were larger at night than day. Resource selection ratios indicated avoidance of open areas with little cover, such as cultivated areas (farmland), tussock grassland and duneland, whereas sources of cover such as trees and buildings were preferred. Maximum distances moved and large variability between individual cats suggest buffers in rural landscapes would need to be at least 2.4 km wide, whereas those in urban-fringe habitat could be half as large.

Conclusions. Despite significant home-range size differences exhibited by cats living in rural v. urban-fringe habitats, exclusion zones would need to be wide to account for considerable inter-cat variation in movement behaviour.

Implications. The size of an effective cat-exclusion zone should represent the specific landscape, amount of residential development and substantial variability between individual cats.


We thank Renaud Mathieu for assistance with spatial analyses, Department of Conservation staff, M. Lettink and L. Frazer for providing contact details of local cat owners, and all the cat owners who participated in the study. The University of Otago provided funding in the form of a University of Otago Research Grant to P. J. S. and PBRF funding to Y. v. H. K. Gerow, and B. Niven kindly provided statistical advice.


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