A children’s cat-hunting competition in New Zealand has been cancelled following backlash against the event.
Organisers of an annual hunt were criticised after they announced a new category for children to hunt feral cats, which are a pest in New Zealand.
Youngsters were told to not kill pets, but they were otherwise encouraged to kill as many feral cats as possible for a prize of NZ$250 (£124; $155).
The event drew immediate condemnation from animal welfare groups.
On Tuesday, the New Zealand’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it was relieved the “children’s category which involved shooting feral cats” would not go ahead.
A representative argued that children, along with adults, would not be able to differentiate between “a feral, stray or frightened domesticated cat”, according to AFP news agency.
There had also been fears that house cats could be “caught in the crossfire”, one former sponsor of the hunt told local media outlet Stuff.
The event had been announced as part of a June fundraiser hunt for a local school in Canterbury in the South Island.
The competition each year typically sees hundreds – including children- compete to kill wild pigs, deer and hares.
Organisers of the North Canterbury Hunting Competition announced the cancellation of the cat event on Tuesday, saying they had received “vile and inappropriate emails”.
“We are disappointed and apologise for those who were excited to be involved in something that is about protecting our native birds, and other vulnerable species,” the group wrote on Facebook.
The post received more than 100 comments from users, many of whom defended the event. People said the hunt could have been a “controlled cull”.
“If only people knew the damage wild cats cause around the place,” one local wrote.
“They also [have] an effect on our farming. Wild cats carry diseases… we will just keep shooting them for as long as we keep seeing them,” she concluded.
Measures to control the feral cat population are the subject of heated debate in New Zealand, where the animals are a major threat to native species and the country’s biodiversity.
New Zealand’s largest conservation group, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, has estimated that feral cats could be responsible for the deaths of as many as 1.1 million native birds every year, as well as tens of millions of non-native birds.
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