Federal cat inquiry delivers it's recommendations. Will it help birds?

Last month the federal government released it's much anticipated report into the problem of feral and domestic cats in Australia. The Birds in Backyards Program put forward a submission and was asked to give evidence at the inquiry.

Much of the report's recommendations focussed on feral cats. Unsurprising and absolutely necessary when we know from work by the National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub (TSRH) that cats kill an estimated 1.7 billion native animals every year. The report stated that a more coordinated, effective and multi-pronged approach to the issue of cats in Australia is desperately needed. It called for a raft of new measures to be put in place including:

  • greater cooperation amongst all levels of government in dealing with cat management and even to simply develop and adopt a consistent definition of feral, stray and domestic cats, to be applied across national, state, territory and local government legislative and regulatory frameworks relating to cats. It seems strange but without this consistancy, it can be impossible for people on the ground to put effective measures in place to control them as legislation can impinge on the ability to put some methods into place.
  • the creation of a network of wildlife havens dubbed 'Project Noah'
  • more research into the impact of cats, including emerging cat control methods, cat-borne diseases and the relationship between habitat degradation and cat predation.

We were heartened to see that the report recognised the impact that domestic cats can have on wildlife and there were a number of recommendations specifically targeting them. This included pet management techniques to overcome some barriers such as early desexing programs with discounts or subsidies, pet registrations and the value and need for more public education campaigns about responsible cat ownership. We collaborate with Zoos Vic on one such program: Safe Cat, Safe Wildlife. It is shows great examples of how to keep your cat's lives enriched indoors.

Of particular note in the report, and one recommendation we are in support of, was the view that Trap, Neuter, Release projects (where unowned cats are trapped, desexed and released back into the same location) are not effective in helping urban wildlife or controlling the cat population itself. Putting the cats back into the environment simply allows them to continue to hunt, and does not stop the influx of more cats into the population from outside.

However despite some good recommendations, we are very concerned that the report only went so far as to recommend night time curfews for our feline companions. Whilst this will help our native mammals, such a curfew will do nothing to protect birds and reptiles. And domestic cats kill a lot of them - estimates suggest 83 million reptiles and 80 million birds each year. The only way to protect this wildlife is to keep cats contained 24/7. And it can be done - in fact research says that cats that live indoors or in a cat run live significantly longer that cats that are allowed to roam. 

We still have a long way to go and many issues to tackle to truly protect the birds in our urban spaces. Responsible cat ownership is just one way we can start to do that. Cat owners are not the enemy - we can love and care for our pets as well as keep our wildlife safe. 



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