WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- Though the numbers are debated, cat-lovers, birders and conservationists agree that domestic felines -- both house cats and feral cats -- kill and maim wildlife, mostly birds and rodents.
What to do about it is also hotly debated. But it's a problem researchers in New Zealand are hoping to solve with a splash of color.
Conservationists at the Victoria University of Wellington are recruiting cats to wear brightly colored collars. The hope is that the jester-like accessory will make cats less effective hunters, thus diminishing their effect on local wildlife.
"Many birds have advanced color vision and see bright colors especially well, even in low light," Victoria University researcher Heidy Kikillus explained in a press release. "The collar covers have been tested overseas with promising results, and we would like to investigate if they have the same success in New Zealand."
Kikillus and his colleagues are partnering with the Wellington City Council to encourage cat owners in and around the nation's capital to outfit their pets with one of the collars and participate in the study.
"Participants will be provided with a collar and attachable cover from United States-based company Birdsbesafe, and are asked to keep a record of the prey caught both with and without the collar over an 8-week period," Kikillus said.
Species in isolated island nations like New Zealand are especially vulnerable to extinction . With few native species to begin with, the country has struggled to maintain its biodiversity.
Though other issues loom larger -- pollution, human development -- cats are part of the problem, scientists say. Wildlife species that didn't evolve alongside cats are especially susceptible to feline claws. But studies show cat owners regularly underestimate the kill counts of their feline friends.
Some bird-lovers have proposed euthanizing feral populations and passing local mandates to keep house cats indoors. Critics say such strategies are unrealistic. They would also likely be publicly unpopular.
The latest collar experiment offers a more moderate option.
"Cats have received a lot of attention in the media due to their potential negative impact on native wildlife, and it will be interesting to see if the collar covers have an impact," said Kikillus.
"We've been delighted at the level of interest from cat owners, and we look forward to including them in this study. It's a neat opportunity to partner with the community to learn more about cats together."