Confused and potentially criminal attempt by Australian local authority to protect wildlife from cat predation

The war against domestic and feral cats in Australia continues unabated. It looks like a war to me and in line with that analogy, the latest policy of a north-west Sydney council, Hornsby Shire, was cruel because it would have led to pointless and possibly illegal cat killing.

Australian council misguided in trying to protect wildlife from cats
Australian council misguided in trying to protect wildlife from cats. Image: MikeB

On my understanding, Hornsby Shire local authority wanted to seize any cat outside the home deemed to be feral by a veterinarian as judged by their appearance, behaviour and the lack of a microchip. And the seized cat was then to be euthanized (killed) immediately without any hold time to try and reunite the cat with their owner if there was one.

Comment: I’ve got to comment on that right away. This local authority wanted a local veterinarian to decide if someone’s pet cat which had escaped their home was feral because they looked a bit dirty and was frightened and also because they didn’t have a microchip. All three reasons are very dubious with a very clear chance of error.

Not everybody microchips their cat. It doesn’t mean that they are feral. A well-behaved domestic cat in their home might well turn into a wild and aggressive cat when trapped and confronted by a stranger. And any domestic cat who has been outside for a few days might look a little bit grubby for obvious reasons. It doesn’t mean that they are feral and should be killed.

Anyway, it is inhumane to simply kill feral cats. It is far more humane to operate TNR programs. But humane treatment of cats in Australia is not a priority.

The initial plan by Hornsby Shire to kill cats immediately after being seized has been overturned by a superior New South Wales law which mandated that they be held two weeks before euthanasia.

A spokeswoman for Hornsby Shire said that the forced amendment to their legislation was introduced without consultation and it has imposed additional costs on the council. And it may discourage trapping of feral cats.

Comment: you can see a battle raging here not just between people and cats but between people and people specifically legislators. They are undecided as to what to do about free roaming cats preying on vulnerable native species particularly small and endangered Australian mammals. They are very cute mammals I confess and they need to be protected but I don’t think this confused and brutal approach works.

The idea of trapping and killing outside cats on the basis of one veterinarian’s assessment is irrational and misguided. Eventually, rhey would have killed someone’s pet and if they did that it would’ve been criminal damage, a crime.

That, I would suggest, is why the New South Wales (NSW) government effectively amended this local authority’s ordnance. It was misguided. It was leading them into criminal behaviour.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a study commissioned by the NSW Office of Local Government found that cat containment was not a solution to the problems regarding the impounding and rehoming up cats. They also reported: “We note very mixed evidence about native wildlife impacts of domestic cats.”

Comment: that seems to state that there isn’t a clear, solid picture about cat predation on wildlife. There are many “estimates”. The word ‘estimate’ is important. Sarah Legge, the honorary Prof in Wildlife Conservation at the Australian National University said that feral and pet cats killed an estimated 1.7 billion native animals annually.

Do you know how they work that number out? They take small studies from certain areas in Australia and extrapolate (enlarge) the figures to make an estimate for the entire continent. This is going to be inaccurate. Further, Australians have no idea how many feral cats there are on their continent. So how can you work out the impact of feral and domestic cats on wildlife?

Legge, fortunately, did admit that habitat loss is one of the greatest threats and causes of population declines in native species. And once you destroy the habitat of a small native mammal it’s lost forever. When a cat kills an animal, it makes an impact on the overall population but it is not a permanent impact. There are many other human-created threats to Aussie wildlife. What about global warming to which Australia contributes with their coal mining. Global warming underpinned the recent catastrophic floods and fires killing 2 billion animals. That dwarfs cats’ impact.

The latest battle in this long-standing war in Australia referred to above tells us that Australian legislatures are struggling on how to protect wildlife from cat predation. They don’t know how to do it. They always end up killing cats as an act of frustration. Something similar happens in New Zealand where they have similar attitudes.

It’s entirely wrong, confused and irrational in my view. They have got to take a long-term view on this and operate nationwide TNR programs funded by local authorities on a massive scale within and near urban areas. I think the feral cats living in the outback are a lost cause. Do that and there be no complaints about animal cruelty. They would stabilise the feral and stray cat population and protect wildlife. The problem is that it is long-term and that does not suit humankind.

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PYTHON KILLS CAT!!! shouts snake catcher resulting in cat hating fest and Facebook arguments

Python kills domestic cat in Australia
Python kills domestic cat in Australia. Photo: Snake Catcher Noosa. I have blurred the picture of the cat to make it more acceptable but below is the FB post.

Luke Huntley is a snake catcher living in Noosa, Eastern Australia. He has a Facebook page. On January 16 he made a post which you can see below. Essentially, he is telling Australians that they should keep their cats inside in order to protect them from a range of hazards including being swallowed by a python. He also says that confining cats protects native species. The post is self-explanatory so I won’t repeat it.

PYTHON KILLS CAT!!! WHY YOU SHOULD KEEP YOUR CAT INSIDE!!!! The photo on the left was from a home in Noosa today where…

Posted by Snake Catcher Noosa on Wednesday, January 16, 2019

As mentioned in the title to this post, Luke received lots of comments, some denigrating the domestic cat saying that the only good cat is a dead cat and similar unpleasant thoughts:

“Shane: Oh The only good cat is a flat cat”

“Jason Hedges: What a good snake!! A good cats a dead cat”

As in any other country, there are quite a lot of cat haters in Australia. More balanced arguments came from other people referring to dogs and how they kill wildlife for instance and humans who, truth be told, are far more damaging to Australia’s native species than their feral cats.

His post exposed that well-known fissure in Australian society; the divide between those who want all feral cats to be eradicated completely and for domestic cats to be kept inside and those who find slaughtering millions of feral cats to be inhumane, impractical and a failure in terms of resolving the problem.

Subsequently, Luke posted a video in which he explains himself. You can see it below.

ABOUT CATS SAFETY AND SAVING WILDLIFE!! VERY IMPORTANT PLEASE WATCH!!! Think of your cats safety and think of our wildlife. Everyone wins, only together and with a peaceful resolution can we make a change. Your cat stays safe from cars, dogs and other stuff, and of course hundreds of millions of native animals a saved each year. So do the right thing keep them inside or in an outdoor enclosure and everyone lives.

Luke 0499 920 290

Posted by Snake Catcher Noosa on Wednesday, January 16, 2019

It seems that those who objected to Luke’s original post about pythons eating domestic cats were upset because they got the impression that he was using graphic images and unpleasant stories to drive cat owners into keeping their cat companions inside the home and within the confines of an enclosure around the backyard.

Readers of his post believed that he was a cat hater wanting to teach cat owners a lesson They probably thought this because there is this battle between cat lovers and cat haters in Australia. This is the impression that we get living in other countries when reading about the Australian authority’s struggle with protecting their wildlife.

Link to Luke’s FB page. Luke is okay. He’s genuine.

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Effect of Cat Registration Tested in Australia

The registration of domestic cats with the local authority is quite widely discussed as a way of reducing the number of stray and therefore, ultimately, feral cats. In short, cat registration is a way of improving the standard of cat ownership. However, many see it as too intrusive on a person’s freedoms. It is a form of the “nanny state”.

Whyalla, where there is obligatory cat registration.
Whyalla, where there is obligatory cat registration. Photo: Michael Coghlan

Australia leads the way on this and the third most populous city in the state of South Australia, Whyalla, has a law that requires people to register their cat.

We have a news report on what is described as a “huge success” by the Whyalla City Council.

In the first month of the law, 680 cats were submitted for registration. They expect the number to rise significantly but they see this as a good start. I can’t assess that figure because we don’t know the number of registrable cats in Whyalla. However, the human population of Whyalla is about 20,000. 27% of households have a cat(s). That does not really help. To me 680 seems like a small number. To the council spokesperson, Matt Werner, it is much more than the council had anticipated.

Euthanasia had risen, which was expected. The average has risen from 5-6 per month to 14-21 per month after registration. Both figures seem low compared to what I am used to reading with respect to US figures but the increase is substantial (3X approximately).

We don’t have a report as to why there is such an increase but it must be because cat owners who are uncommitted, let’s call them “casual cat owners”, decided that registration would place to much of a burden on them. There are probably penalties in the law for certain offences in relation to cat caretaking. I expect some cat owners were unable to see themselves as being able to comply with the law and gave up and decided to relinquish (abandon) their cat(s).

The council expects more cats to be abandoned over the coming months but thereafter to see a reduction. I suppose they mean that the genuine cat guardians will remain and these people will be willing to comply with the law.

Part of the law includes obligatory microchipping. On July 5th, a microchipping day, 185 animals were microchipped in four hours. They considered that a good day. Clearly a lot more people are microchipping their cats. This is a good thing as it allows stray cats to be returned to their owners. The question is should the cat’s owners remain the cat’s owners?

Cats that are not microchipped are held at an animal rescue center for 72 hours max. and if no one claims the animal he/she is “taken to the vet” (a euphemism for killed humanely).

The council say the purpose of cat registration is to return cats to their owners. I expect it is much more than that: it is about improving the standards of cat caretaking with the intention of removing cats from the streets and common land to reduce preying on wildlife.

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By Sarah Hartwell

The Susuki was a short-lived breed created in Australia in 1957 and developed for about a decade as an “experimental breed”. At that time, the genetics of blue eyes was not properly understood. This article appeared in “The Age,” Monday March 13, 1961 (a newspaper from Melbourne, Australia):

“Mr Douglas Greening, of Box Hill North, has been devoting a great deal of time to the Susukis for three years and the latest news is that, under the description “experimental breed” they wall be exhibited for the first time at the Croydon [Australia] agricultural show on March 25. The Susukis are the fruits (through three generations) of the marriage of Pluto of Arden, a seal point Siamese, and a white domestic alley cat, who had a touch of Persian in her ancestry. The fruits have taken two forms – both will look, in shape, like Siamese and have Siamese blue eyes, but one will be black all over and the other grey all over. They don’t look quite like that yet; they may be described as being half-way there, and Mr Greening thinks that another three generations may bring success.”

Susuki from Our Cats Dec 1965
Susuki from Our Cats Dec 1965

At a guess, the white foundation female was blue-eyed, hence the breeder’s hopes of creating a blue-eyed non-pointed, non-white breed. However, Siamese blue eyes and white-fur blue eyes are different genes and are inextricably linked to the coat colour. The foundation sire, Pluto of Arden (a Seal-Point Siamese), was better known to judges for his poor temperament. The founding mother also carried the recessive long-hair gene. Some Susukis, owned by Mrs van den Arden (a cat breed judge) were exhibited in Tasmania in the mid 1960s.

According to Mrs Davies’ report in Our Cats, January 1965:

“In Victoria there is a completely new type of black shorthair cat with hazel eyes called Susukis. These I found to be a mixture of Siamese and black domestic. We in New Zealand have seen the progeny of mismatings between Siamese and the ordinary British Shorthair cat. But we had not thought of them as a new breed. In Victoria, Mr and Mrs Chandler, Mrs Moloney, Mrs Matheson and Mr Scott were all keen on producing Susukis, but with hazel eyes instead of blue.”

This report provoked the following response in the May 1965 issue of Our Cats: “Eight years of careful, planned and selective breeding was undertaken to produce them. Mrs Davies says they are not unattractive. They are indeed attractive with their almost fluid sleekness and grace. She also got the Susuki breeders wrong – they should be Hiljoy Cattery (Mrs Van der Spek and Miss Holding), Suzeraine Cattery (Mrs Carmichael, Miss Thomas, Mrs Buck, myself and Mr Hartnell) and Rothesay Cattery (Mrs Matheson). Mr greening, who bred the original stock, has retired. They are shown as experimental and the judge is advised as to the breed being bred for and the number of generations towards that (of the exhibit). … Beryl Chandler (Mrs), Camberwell, Victoria, Australia.”

Mrs Chandler’s provided a photo for the December issue and, in monochrome, the cats resemble Havana Browns. Had they continued development, the hazel-eyed Susukis would have been similar to the Black and Blue Oriental Shorthairs, though probably less extreme in conformation compared to modern Oriental Shorthairs.

The Susuki breed progressed through at least 8 years of selective breeding, but it would prove impossible to create a blue-eyed black or grey shorthair. That would not happen until the Ojos Azules many years later; the Ojos Azules has all but died out due to lethal deformities linked to the blue-eyed mutation.


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Australian Feral Cat Evolving Into A True Wildcat?

Giant Australian Feral Cat

The process of the unraveling of the domestication of the cat seems to be taking place in parts of Australia. Stray cats are becoming feral and the feral cats are becoming bigger and smarter. They are looking and behaving like their wildcat ancestor. They may even be a better predator than the wildcat. They are entering a phase of reverse evolution, turning the clock back 10,000 years to return to their roots and become a modern version of the Near Eastern Wildcat, felis silvestris lybica. I would expect the new wildcat to be superior to the Near Eastern Wildcat. The taxonomists would have to classified it as a new subspecies of wildcat.

What I have said in the first paragraph is part fiction and part fact. The Australian authorities are genuinely concerned about super feral cats. They are obsessed with them and abusing them. Super feral cats are very similar to the species called the wildcat in behavior and skills. The outback in Australia is vast. People population densities are very low. There is plenty of prey for a modern-day wildcat. The super-feral-cat/wildcat can thrive under these conditions. By domestic cat standards, they are able to claim very large home ranges – territories that they regard as their home.

Officially there are no wild cat species in Australia but the way things are developing, perhaps one day there may be. The Aussie super-feral-cat story is an example of the early stages of reverse evolution or the ‘undomestication’ of the domestic cat via feral cats. Feral cats are wild but not try wildcats. There is a difference. Also, the super feral cat makes for good sport hunting for Aussie’s who like to shoot at something.

Note: there are stories of leopard-sized feral cats in Australia.  I really don’t think this is realistic. I don’t even think they are hybrids. They are just fiction.

I’d like to thank Harvey Harrison for the idea behind this article. There are more articles on Australia’s feral cats at the base of the page.

If the cat is ‘undomesticating’ itself in parts of Australia, it begs the question whether domestication of the wildcat would take place today.

Would domestication of the wildcat take place today?

The wildcat, today, would not drift into domestication because the original conditions under which cat domestication took place hardly exist.

The original act of domestication, about 10,000 years ago, is described as a “mutual arrangement” or agreement because both human and cat benefited. The Near Eastern Wildcat found life easier because prey was more abundant near grain stores. The farmer became more efficient because his grain was protected.

The circumstances have changed dramatically. Full-time indoor cats being fed commercially prepared dry kibble is not what the cat agreed! What the domestic cat wants is as natural a life as possible because he is made for that.

Where there is the opportunity, the domestic cat could and would revert to the wildcat but it would take a long time. It could be argued that every domestic cat born has to be domesticated through socialization during the first weeks. In other words, domestication is not hard wired.

Of course, you cannot place a domestic cat outside and expect him to survive. A few will. Most will perish. Their skills are too rusty. However, the stray cat turns feral and over time offspring evolve into super skilled predators of abundant wildlife. They eat well and grow strong. They have a better life. On that basis the domestic cat would no longer agree to be domesticated.

One last, important, point: people kill far more wildlife than super feral cats through their rampant activities which invariable includes the destruction of habitat and prey items that sustain wildlife. People should be less hypocritical on the subject of wildlife conservation and the damage done by feral cats.

Note: I have provided a full credit and link to the original picture on this page as “payment” for publishing it in the interests of trying to improve our knowledge of cats.



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