A competition encouraging children to kill as many cats as possible has been cancelled following a backlash.
A prize of £124 was on offer for the youngster who managed to shoot the most feral felines in New Zealand.
But critics of the North Canterbury Hunting Competition feared household pets could end up being targeted because children wouldn’t know the difference.
New Zealand’s version of the RSPCA – the SPCA – had said it was “extremely concerned” about the planned event, but couldn’t take enforcement action because no laws were being broken.
The animal charity added: “It’s not possible to tell the difference between a feral, stray or frightened domestic cat based on appearance, so there is a good chance someone’s pet may be killed during this event.
“In addition, children often use air rifles in these sorts of event which increase the likelihood of pain and distress, and can cause a prolonged death.”
In a statement, the North Canterbury Hunting Competition said the cat hunting category has been scrapped – and condemned those who had sent “vile and inappropriate emails”.
Organisers added: “Our sponsors and school safety are our main priority, so the decision has been made to withdraw this category for this year to avoid further backlash at this time.
“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.”
Other parts of the competition, which encourage children to shoot wild deer and wild pigs, will go ahead as planned.
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Feral cats are widespread in New Zealand – and according to the country’s Department of Conservation, they have a “major impact” on native birds, bats, lizards and mice.
They are regarded as pests in the country – and officials use poison, traps and guns to keep the population under control.
Some of those who follow the North Canterbury Hunting Competition’s Facebook page expressed anger at the cat killing contest being scrapped.
One supporter argued that wild cats cause a lot of damage, carry disease and disrupt the lambing season.