Culling, Curfews and Caps: Australia 'Declares War' on Its Cat Problem

Culling, Curfews and Caps: Australia ‘Declares War’ on Its Cat Problem

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Invasive species are the biggest driver of biodiversity loss in Australia, a new United Nations report released this week. And feral cats are the biggest threat to the country, killing an estimated two billion animals a year, according to Australia’s environment minister, Tanya Plibersek.

The Australian government announced this week that it is “declaring war” on these cats, releasing a draft action plan that includes measures such as creating programs for recreational hunters to shoot feral cats, and reducing the number of cats caught in the wild.

This is not exactly new – the Australian government also declared war on feral cats in 2015 – but the latest proposal contains new elements. Authorities are considering putting more restrictions on domestic cats, such as keeping them indoors at night, setting a cap on the number of cats each household can have, and creating more cat-free zones.

“This consultation paper will ask some really important questions, such as, ‘Should we have a curfew?’ Should local governments have more leeway to restrict cat ownership in their area?’” Ms Plibersek told local media yesterday.

Many local governments in Australia already have strict cat bans, some of which have made international headlines. A funny place called Mount Barker in South Australia mandates that every household have two pet cats. Some local councils require domestic cats to be kept indoors, or have special areas such as “cat enclosures” where pets must be kept indoors at all times.

Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the northwest of the country, imposed a ban on bringing any more cats to the island and required all residents to sterilize their domestic cats, measures that the authorities hoped would lead to the eventual extinction of the island’s population.

Although these animal control strategies are usually established at the local level, they can be limited by weaker or different laws at the state level. Under the government’s new proposal, states could create consistent laws while local governments would be empowered to facilitate cat-free towns.

A few months ago, I spoke to Sarah Legge, a professor at the Australian National University and one of the country’s leading researchers on the impact of cats, who said that Australians generally accept these measures to contain domestic cats more than most people. other countries.

“Maybe our job is easier in Australia, unfortunately, because we’ve lost so many species,” he said. “The public is more supportive of cat control, including pet cat owners.”

One domestic cat kills about 186 mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs a year, compared to 748 if one cat would kill, Ms Legge’s research found. However, because domestic cats are so crowded in their habitats, the total number of animals killed per hectare in the suburbs is greater than the number killed by feral cats.

The effects of domestic and feral cats “bleed into each other,” Ms Legge said. “Domestic animals can wander, and the strays can be birds. And they can go back the other way. “

Although Australia has struggled with the feral cat problem for decades, with trapping, shooting and poisoning programs, it is only in recent years that attention has shifted to domestic cats.

“We’ve done a lot of work on feral cats for a long time, and, at some point, about five years ago, we decided that the time was right to immediately open the conversation about domestic cats,” said Professor Legge.

It’s a delicate conversation to have, especially with cat owners, she added. “Everybody was very careful about not wanting to create debates, and not make people protect themselves with their pets.”

“We have a choice: We may have to decide whether we want to manage and preserve biodiversity, or we let it go, and feral cats run wild,” he said. “It’s a choice we have to make, and I think we can do that and be compassionate to pet owners.”

Now for this week’s stories:

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