Fined! Why you can’t take your dog or cat into National Parks

Department of Conservation —  15/12/2022
Nelson Lakes – the site with the largest number of ‘pets in national parks’ offences in the country. Mainly because the road takes people to the ‘public’ carpark that is actually inside the national park.

The summer holidays are upon us, and many pet parents and their fur balls are raring (and barking and meowing) to get out of the house. Excitement and enthusiasm is great, but being a responsible pet parent is being conscious of ‘no pets allowed’ spaces. You don’t want to end up getting a fine for your dog in a national park, or your cat. You want that money in your pocket for festivities, right?

Though pets simply love the great outdoors (most of them, anyway), it’s important to be conscious of the harm they could do to the ecology and wildlife around them – and themselves!

We have been battling to get unaware pet parents to follow the rules. We spoke with our Principal Compliance Officer Jeff Hall on what those rules are, and why we should follow them.

Where aren’t pets allowed?

Let’s first go over the rules around animals in national parks, tracks, and offshore islands in NZ.

Different areas have different regulations on whether you can take your pet there or not.

Some areas allow pets, others require a permit, and some don’t allow pets at all.

Let’s make one thing clear – national parks in New Zealand do not allow pets at all.

Most offshore islands don’t allow pets, either. Some walking tracks and campgrounds may allow pets though, but you should also be aware that some car parks in national parks, such as Kerr Bay in the Nelson Lakes National Park are also “No Pet” areas.

It’s best to check pet-related regulations BEFORE you go. To do so, navigate to this page, select your activity, and tick the ‘dogs allowed’ box. Now you’re able to search all the pet-friendly areas that allows Fido or Felix to come along:

If you’ve already chosen your destination and you’re not sure whether it’s pet friendly or not, phone the nearest DOC visitor centre to the place you intend to visit.

Why will you get a fine for a dog in a National Park?

In short, fines for bringing pets into a national park are there to protect both wildlife and the pet involved. Dogs and cats have a natural instinct to hunt and predate, which poses a risk to New Zealand’s native animals. National parks often house some of our most vulnerable and endangered species, which dogs or cats can maim or kill.

A lot of the native species are ground dwelling and therefore easy for a dog to chase down and attack. The danger to the pets themselves is that they could come across poison intended for pest or predator control, eat it and become seriously ill and/or die.

A black-fronted dotterel, one of New Zealand’s endangered birds.

How big is the pets-in-parks problem?

Despite us being clear on where pets are and aren’t allowed, the team sees it becoming more commonplace for people to bring dogs and cats into national parks.

Since 17 December 2020 to 14 November 2022 there have been a total of 467 recorded cases nationally involving dogs either attacking or killing wildlife or being somewhere they shouldn’t be. The actual instances are thought to be a lot higher as not every one will have been reported.

In one such incident on one of the inner Hauraki Gulf islands (one of New Zealand’s highly protected pest-free offshore islands), an off-leash and unsupervised dog attacked and killed a weka – one of our country’s highly endangered birds.

A weka – threatened, despite being a common sight in some areas

And dogs aren’t the only ones causing chaos.

There have also been instances of people bringing cats into national parks. 

A person brought one in her bag, which subsequently ran off into the undergrowth. The lady reported it to us and the cat wasn’t found until the next day. This could have had serious consequences to the local wildlife, which are susceptible to predation.

How big is the fine for a cat or dog in a national park?

The fines can be big, and so can the impact on our precious taonga.

In one of the worst cases documented by us, dogs killed at least eight kiwis in the Wharau Road area east of Kerikeri.

Penalties for allowing a dog to kill wildlife in New Zealand can be severe. According to the NZ Dog Control Act, anyone whose dog seriously injures a person or kills protected wildlife can be fined up to $20,000. They can even face a jail sentence of up to three years. In this instance, three dogs were put down and two owners were fined.

While we’re on the subject of pets (animals) not being allowed in national parks, equally, you can’t take animals out of nationals parks, and keep them as pets. If you’re out and about and see geckos or lizards leave them where they are, they are native taonga species and are not pets.

Lead the way while enjoying our parks

Even in areas that allow pets, they should always be on a leash. A long or short lead is very useful on a walking track or beach, for keeping both your dog and other animals safe. Even more so when it’s colour coded.

PD recently partnered with us on our Lead the Way programme, which includes a quiz that teaches pet parents how to become wildlife wise. Once you’ve completed the quiz it’ll unlock the ability to purchase a Lead the Way lead for your dog or cat. These high quality, locally-made leads indicate your pet’s temperament to other pet parents. They’re either green, orange, yellow or red, which means the below:

Green – your pet is happy to be around other pets and people.
Orange – your pet isn’t always comfortable around other pets and people.
Red – your pet doesn’t like socialising with unfamiliar pets or people.
Yellow – your pet is disabled or vulnerable to interactions in some way.

You’ll also be very clearly demonstrating your support for the protection of our precious wildlife. Hopefully that encourages others to do the same!

Check out this guide on being a responsible pet parent while in the NZ outdoors for more info.

Keep them covered

Now you know why you’ll get a fine for your dog in a national park, or your cat. Knowing where pets aren’t allowed is all part of being a responsible pet parent. Another part is making sure you have proper pet insurance to cover them in case of an accident or illness.

PD Insurance is the Auckland partner for our Lead the Way programme that helps to protect native coastal wildlife and keep dogs and people safe.

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