Yes, we are back to that evergreen topic: the Australian government’s proposals to cull millions of feral cats in order to save native animals that they love and who define the nation. They’re making a choice between an invasive species that they dislike and native species which they love. They should remind themselves that they introduced this non-native species.
Over the previous years there have been many proposals as to how best to reduce the size of the feral cat population in Australia. Many of those methods were inhumane. As a consequence there was international uproar on the Internet.
The Minister for the Environment and Energy in Australia, Josh Frydenberg, is, we are told, planning to make an announcement in March with respect to the initial grants to encourage local communities to trap and then humanely euthanise feral cats. Now that sounds good and it is reinforced by what the Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews has said. He has called upon every mayor in Australia to provide free euthanasia of trapped feral cats.
All well and good in some ways. Although I disagree with what I consider to be the constant drip-drip of misinformation from the Australian government about the impact on native species by feral cat predation. In my opinion it is exaggerated. It is certainly estimated. It is quite easy to exaggerate the predation numbers and the negative impact upon Australian native species because it is a way of justifying mass extermination of feral cats.
Putting that aspect of this process to one side for the moment, what is disturbing is that the government might be resurrecting some other ways to cull feral cats which are considered by the Australian RSPCA to be inhumane. I think it would be foolhardy for the Australian government to use cruel methods to kill feral cats. It would work against them and to a large extent nullify the so-called benefits of reducing the feral cat population.
Other methods being discussed and proposed are baits containing a poison and employing a robotlike device (a grooming trap) which sprays a nasty poison onto feral cats (and only feral cats) whereupon the poison is licked off and ingested. This device is meant to be able to differentiate between stray, domestic cats and feral cats. I doubt whether this is possible and I feel very strongly that this device will kill many pets.
Other methods of dealing with feral cats are employing guardian dogs to protect native species and using indigenous hunters, professional trappers and shooters to hunt and kill them. This would be inhumane. Another method would be to train prey to avoid feral cats. That seems to be far-fetched.
The government’s target is to cull 2 million feral cats by 2020. The authorities in Australia believe that science supports the argument that every feral cat kills 3 to 20 native animals a week or up to 1,000 per annum.
They are particularly concerned about super-sized male feral cats which prey upon larger native species. They consider the presence of these cats to be “catastropic”. In addition, the Australian authorities believe that many native species have a low reproductive rate and that they are more susceptible to predators such as the feral cat. The cull is designed to protect 124 species most at risk such as the bandicott, the numbat and the endangered bilby.
We are told that about 211,000 feral cats were culled in 2016. We don’t know how they were killed. Five islands including Kangaroo Island and Christmas Island have made plans to eliminate all feral cats and in addition to phase out domestic cats. Initially there will be strict regulations regarding keeping a pet cat such as requiring a license. It is certainly true that feral cat predation on islands is much more damaging to native species than on the mainland.
The only real question for people like me is whether the authorities deal with the feral cat population in a decent and humane manner. Their talk about poisoning feral cats is unacceptable. They should stick to trapping and euthanasia if they want to kill them. They believe that trap-neuter-release (TNR) is impractical. I’m not sure that what they’re proposing is practical because killing feral cats has proved in the past to be ineffective.