Can Australia curb its killer cats?

Australia has a cat problem. Its population of just over eight million feral and domestic cats are thought to kill billions of native creatures each year, many endangered.

Juniper, an 8-year-old ginger cat belonging to Hugh Fathers

A typical domestic cat like Juniper in New South Wales will kill more than 180 native creatures every year, suggests data from Threatened Species Recovery Hub. And her feral feline cousins, whose population fluctuates between two and six million, are even more voracious, each killing about 790 wild animals per year. The overall toll - some two billion mammals, birds and reptiles - approaches the estimated wildlife lost, injured or displaced in the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires disaster - every year.

Prof Sarah Legge from the Australian National University says cats were “the primary contributor” to the extinction of two-thirds of the 33 Australian mammal species lost since colonisation.

“That’s a massive extinction rate… you don’t see that replicated anywhere else in the world. They continue to cause mammal declines today,” she told the BBC. “There’s eight species that only survive now in cat-free areas, so either islands or fenced areas on the mainland.”

Low-level cat regulations like microchipping and registration exist across Australia. And concern about the impact of roaming cats has led almost one-third of councils to bring in cat-free areas, cat curfews or containment rules. But restrictions vary widely and there are no containment laws at all in Western Australia or the most populous state, New South Wales (NSW).

Around 30% of Australia’s cat owners already contain their pets, either indoors or in specially constructed cat enclosures, sometimes referred to as “catios”.

Last year the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) showed one possible future model for the whole country. Alongside a mandatory cat register, cat containment suburbs were expanded across Canberra and a curfew for all cats born after 1 July was brought in. Existing free-roaming cats were permitted to remain at large “to allow a fair and gradual transition”, ACT Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel told the Canberra Times newspaper.

With the cats in retreat, native species can recover in “spectacular fashion”, says Prof Legge. “Boodies (burrowing bettongs), stick-nest rats, western barred bandicoots, rufous hare-wallabies, banded hare-wallabies… increase in population size very markedly.”

A rufous hare-wallaby - extinct in the wild on the Australian mainland

“It’s been estimated that pet cats that are safely contained, or [with] controlled access to the outdoors will live up to 10 years longer than free-roaming cats,” he says. That longer lifespan comes from reduced risk, says Prof Legge. “They’re not going to get hit by a car, mauled by a dog or pick up diseases. As long as you’re providing a behaviourally enriched environment, at home or in the catio, the cat’s better off.”

Cats - “an invasive alien species” … :scream_cat:

It was brought to my attention in this thread that Australians shoot cats.

I hope they come up with more and better solutions.

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Now I’m a cat lover but that’s a real problem, isn’t it?

I think they need to insist all pet cats are indoor cats, with enclosed catios in there own gardens

That’s what I’ll do when I get a cat here in the U.K.

Because the trouble is that cats are very efficient predators and killers and breed prolifically

The wild ones, horrible as it is, I suppose they’ll have to cull

I remember reading about a scheme to poison them with poison sausage? But that was a few years ago so presumably it didn’t work?

And another idea was to insert poison capsules into native animals so if a cat ate then they’d get poisoned and die

I never really got that one because it would surely be a huge job to round up the animals to put the capsule in?

And the animal would have to die for the cat to eat it and get poisoned, so how would that help conserve it?

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It wasn’t too long ago that parts of Australia had a plague of mice. Bet the cats were more popular then.