• A controversial feral-cat-killing competition for children in New Zealand has been canceled.
  • Charities had warned of the "incredibly high" risk of domestic cats being accidentally killed.
  • The organizers of the competition said it scrapped the contest to avoid "further backlash."

A controversial new category for a competition in New Zealand, which would have seen children under 14 compete to hunt feral cats for a cash prize, has been canceled after a fierce backlash from animal-rights groups.

The North Canterbury Hunting Competition, an annual pest-killing event on New Zealand's South Island that raises money for a local school and swimming pool, announced a brand-new category this year, offering $250 NZ ($154 US) for the child who could kill the most feral cats.

The competition began on April 15, and was scheduled to run until late June, but organizers called it off on Tuesday.

The competition's rules had stated that any entrants who presented a dead, microchipped pet cat would be disqualified, but animal-rights charities were unsatisfied with the safeguard, per The Guardian.

"Children, as well as adults, will not be able to tell the difference between a feral, stray or a frightened domesticated cat," a spokesperson for the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or SPCA, said, per AFP.

Radio New Zealand reported that the SPCA is already investigating the death of a cat in North Canterbury, which was killed on Tuesday after being shot with an air rifle after the competition had started.

The cat, which was handed in by a member of the public, was microchipped but it is uncertain if the death was linked to the competition, according to New Zealand's Stuff news outlet.

"While we are uncertain of whether this cat was shot during the [hunting] event, it demonstrates that the use of an air rifle caused unnecessary pain and distress for the cat," an SPCA spokesperson said.

The North Canterbury Hunting Competition said in a media release published on Facebook on Tuesday that it had made the decision to cancel the category to avoid "further backlash" after "vile & inappropriate emails" were sent to the local school the money was being raised for.

"We are incredibly disappointed in this reaction," it said, adding that entries are still open for categories that included hunting wild pigs and deer.

The post had more than 100 comments at the time of press, many of which were supporting the organization, while suggesting that feral cats wreak havoc on New Zealand's environment.

The issue of whether to treat cats as pests is a source of fierce debate in New Zealand. According to Northland Regional Council, feral, stray, and pet cats kill up to 100 million birds in New Zealand every year. 

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