Killing feral cats in Australia draws attention away from human threats to native wild species

Australia's sausages contained poison - either 1080 or PAPP.
Australia’s sausages contained poison – either 1080 or PAPP.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

It’s been well publicised that the Australian authorities want to cull 2 million feral cats by 2020 and are doing it by poisoning the cats with baited sausages, shooting them and any other way possible (devices). There appears to be two kinds of poisoned sausages, one of which is more humane than the other. I have reported on frozen sausages impregnated with the poison 1080. That story was also reported by The Washington Post.

Humane Poison? have published an excellent article on this topic. It appears that the authorities in Australia have taken on board their inhumane attitude towards eradicating feral cats on the continent (and there’s been a lot of criticism online). They have developed a poison with the euphemistic name of “Curiosity”. It’s been a long time in development and it has cost AU$5.1 million. It is described as a “humane, broad-scale toxic bait to control feral cats in conservation areas”.

It’s worth having a look at it, and thanks to, I can do that. They quote quite a large section of an Australian document which states, in brief, that a poisonous pellet is placed inside the sausage. They argue that cats don’t have molar teeth and therefore they don’t masticate their food but tear it and in doing so they swallow chunks of it. They hope that feral cats will swallow the pellet inside the sausage where it will come to reside inside the cat’s stomach. The poison or “toxicant” is called PAPP. It converts the animal’s red blood cells to a form that cannot carry oxygen. The cat dies of oxygen starvation to the brain and other organs. Death takes minutes to hours. The RSPCA in Australia have said that it is a clear improvement in humaneness over previous toxins. However, it has not been cleared by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority! And no one has stated whether the cat feels pain when dying over those minutes or hours. I guess no one cares sufficiently.

They say that the sausages are less likely to poison other animals because other animals “nibble and chew their food and are likely to reject the pellet”. In addition, if an animal eats a deceased (poisoned) feral cat they say that they are less likely to be killed through secondary poisoning. This the story behind the new baited sausage.

Poisoning Cat Distracts Attention from the Human Element

Researchers have published a paper in the journal Conservation Letters in which they state that the Australian government’s focus on killing cats in large numbers diverts attention away from human threats to the continent’s wild species and biodiversity. The biggest threat with respect to human activity is the loss of habitat of the wild species they want to protect. Loss of habitat has been largely overlooked in the Threatened Species Strategy under which the cat poisoning project is taking place.

The fact the matter is that poisoning feral cat is a very high profile strategy garnering tons of criticism but little is written about the impact of human activity on the survivability of wild species in Australia. I suspect that native species are far more threatened by humans than they are by feral cats.

The other problem is that the impression given by the authorities in Australia is that by killing 2 million feral cats they will largely resolve the threat to wildlife but the researchers state in Conservation Letters that this link is not clear. What they’re saying that there’s not necessarily a direct link between predation by feral cats and the extinction of native species in Australia.

It is clear that the authorities need to focus more on what the human population is doing to wildlife or at least give equal attention to that aspect of wildlife conservation rather than simply attempt to kill 2 million feral cats inhumanely.

One last point worth making is that researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne reported that by the end of 2016 an estimated 211,000 feral cats had been killed but that 83% of them had been shot rather than poisoned. Shooting cats is obviously cruel as it causes pain and but for the fact that they are feral cats the shooters would be in the criminal courts on a charge of animal cruelty. In the UK shooters of feral cats are prosecuted for animal cruelty.

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