Australia Is Deadly Serious About Killing Millions of Cats

These numbers are simply staggering both in terms of the cats and the damage they have done.

NYT: Australia Is Deadly Serious About Killing Millions of Cats 

Klinker said:
These numbers are simply staggering both in terms of the cats and the damage they have done.
NYT: Australia Is Deadly Serious About Killing Millions of Cats 

 Can anyone think of a more humane way of ridding Australia of these feral cats?

I cannot imagine a different solution in light of the numbers (millions of feral cats) that Australia is addressing.

i can’t open the article because of the paywall. However (living in Australia I’m guessing it’s a rehashing of an issue we’re very familiar with), this is a longstanding issue and goes beyond feral cats - we have vast numbers of feral imported animal species we need to control and can’t do so merely through controlling their ability to reproduce.

Cats. Seriously, these ferals aren’t just in cities; you can be bushwalking literally in the middle of nowhere that you’ve driven maybe 8-20 hours or more to get to, and there’ll be kittens mewling. Feral (not stray) cats live in all our environments - from harsh desert to the mountain tops - and grow large enough to bring down wallabies (that’s people-sized, folks).

Various breeds of domestic dogs, but you don’t read as much about them outside cities, not as divisive as cats

Various non-native birds, released from cages and avaries.


Cane toads. 

Introduced beetles the cane toads were meant to kill. (Oh, and the prickly pear cactus -an introduced plant we’ve been trying to eradicate for over 100 years - that the introduced beetles were going to kill)

Wild horses (yes, our iconic brumbies are destructive freaks and need to drastically reduced in number or our fragile mountain ecosystems will be destroyed forever). 

Rabbits. We’ve been waging war on rabbits for well over 100 years, and this includes targeted bio-warfare as well as a shooters’ bounty. Nothing seems to work.

Foxes. Colonial idiots thought it just wonderful fun to import foxes and rabbits so they could release them on their vast estates then hunt with friends on horseback with packs of hounds....  They never thought about all the ‘bunnies’ and ‘brer foxes’ they didn’t catch, nor the destruction they continue to cause today, ruining farmlands, heritage areas, spreading disease and even killing pets.

Camels. Imported as to carry people and freight across our inland deserts, then abandoned as cars, trucks, railroads and planes took over. Camels love it here.

Our waterways are choked with European carp, crowding out our native fish - and this was a massive problem even before the shocking algal blooms and millions of fish deaths in several river systems this summer.

Fire ants. In swarms, taking over entire suburbs of our cities including inland regional cities. They’ve spread from the docks of capital cities, having been imported with furniture and produce from overseas.

European honeybees and wasps. These have escaped the controlled hives of commercial apiarists and now seek to displace the smaller, stingless native bee. Native bee numbers are declining. It’s a major worry. Australia is mite-free, and we export live honeybees to other honey-producing nations to help them rebuild their hives - we don’t want to lose our own native bees.

At the same time, depending where you are in the nation, this is about the tenth or fifteenth straight year of drought - serious lack of proper rain, which means no decent plant growth to sustain native wildlife or the exotic ferals that prey on them. The lack of water and unpredictability of burrows etc makes bushfire fighting extra hazardous.

People forget that our landmass is only slightly smaller than the USA, and is mostly empty of roads and habitation. At present it’s mostly dry and hot (despite it being autumn). There’s no ‘humane’ way to eradicate feral animals at plague proportions when you can’t even find them in the first place. A clean swift and painless death, yes; but I seriously doubt we have $$$ to spare for the trapping let alone burial/burning of the bodies. (I did hear something about a CDEP ranger program in the Outback that might be looking at this, but that’s a heck of a lot of ammo, underpaid staff hours, truck fuel etc)

I’ll just repeat again: the feral cats we’re talking about for this program are NOT stray city/urban cats. They’re wild, totally undomesticated animals living out bush hundreds of kilometres from human habitation, preying on native wildlife and growing much much larger than a domesticated kitty. It is not possible to spay, trap, rehome or even easily bait a feral cat; they have few natural predators in Australia apart from the occasional wedge-tail or possibly a lucky cane toad, fox or dingo.  

in perspective, with other policies:

There’s also a video clip of a feral cat taking a bandicoot. Note the relative sizes. 

joanne said:

Foxes. Colonial idiots thought it just wonderful fun to import foxes and rabbits so they could release them on their vast estates then hunt with friends on horseback with packs of hounds....  They never thought about all the ‘bunnies’ and ‘brer foxes’ they didn’t catch, nor the destruction they continue to cause today, ruining farmlands, heritage areas, spreading disease and even killing pets.

I live in a suburban area of Melbourne, in the southern Australian state of Victoria.

There are foxes living near my house - up to earlier this year, I could see evidence of native possums throughout my garden, then the fox or foxes moved in.  The possums are nocturnal, so the only way I know they're around is to hear them as they scamper across my roof at night - Scamper?  They sound like they're wearing size 12 boots, most of the time! - or to see their droppings in the daylight.

With the arrival of the fox, or foxes, I no longer hear any of the possums.

Oh, and Melbourne is known for having some of the highest densities of urban foxes in Australia - something like 16 to the square kilometre.  Rough conversion:  1 square kilometre = 247 acres or 1/3 of a square mile)

Foxes are also known to prey on local (pet) cats.  

So much so, that someone in my street recently placed a notice in our letterbox warning cat owners to keep their animals indoors as much as possible, as at least one cat (and a possum, it noted) had already fallen prey to the fox.

I say let Australia do Australia.

Killing animals is sad, but it needs to be done.  If the cats aren’t killed then native animals will be killed by the cats.  From one of the articles above feral cats are partially responsible for the extinction of 22 species so far.  If allowed to continue that number will increase.

TNR is obviously not a solution, especially considering their extremely wide range 

we have cats as pets, but we have no illusion about their behavior outdoors.  Cats are prolific killers, so we have always kept ours indoors.  Partially to protect them from being hit by cars or attacked by predators, but also to keep them from killing birds.

Even before that NYT article, I had been aware of the feral cat problem in Australia.  I've seen photos of very large feral cats that had been taken down after killing pretty large prey.  They seem almost like bobcats.  Certainly nothing like house cats.

Not too many people would want to run across one of these:

here was the article I had read a couple of years ago. Warning:  some graphic photos of prey killed by cats.

ml1 said:
here was the article I had read a couple of years ago. Warning:  some graphic photos of prey killed by cats.

 Thanks for re-citing this. The current policy has been in place for more than a decade, I believe, and honestly I can’t see that anyone is actually counting the feral population nor the corpses. Firstly, there’s no way to do either (jurisdictions aren’t properly coordinated, tracking the feral populations is way too difficult, the ‘kill’ plans aren’t sufficiently coordinated, etc) and secondly, I suspect there are too many new kittens each year replacing those removed through deliberate action.

When we first moved from Brisbane to the southern Riverina region in 1996, there was a lot of anti-cat talk then, particularly when people were discussing how to save and protect the sugar gliders (a kind of flying possum), special butterflies, and blue tongue lizards.  Brumby lovers counter cull arguments by emphasising the greater damage that feral cats and rabbits do; cat lovers tend tend to carry on about the damage of wild horses’ hooves on fragile mountain soils and unique ancient plants. Everyone worries about the rabbits. 

This morning I caught Dr Karl on the radio as I was driving back from my aquafit class.

(Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, has about 6 doctorates and brings science into everyday language for most people through radio and tv programs)

One of the questions he was answering concerned feral cats - just how bad is the problem? He said, we really don’t know the true quantified impact on fauna but we do on birds because that was actually surveyed a couple of years back (and explained how). A million birds a day are killed by feral cats in Australia. 

He also explained that when colonialists first came here, their horses couldn’t walk on the grasslands or in the forests - the soils were too soggy for the horses’ and cattle’s hooves; they kept cutting up the top of soils and sinking in quite deep. Cart wheels wouldn’t roll properly either; gravel had to be imported and added to make roads. But the native fauna didn’t have this problem of sinking. So now, where there’s been a lot of work to remove feral cats, fence those areas with cat-proof/rabbit-proof fencing, and try to remove more obvious weeds (willows, pampas, lantana, bamboos, ivy, morning glory, etc) the soils return to their natural condition and wildlife returns. 

It was really fascinating. 

Oh! Earlier I forgot to list feral pigs amongst horrible damaging imported pets let loose in the bush. For whatever reason, former farmers could no longer keep their pigs and rather than kill and eat them they turned out to fend for themselves. Pigs have adjusted very well to living in the wild in Australia, growing to enormous sizes, terrorising various camping grounds in central and north Australia and proving spirt for weekend shooters. 

Oh, and wild deer - some idiots thought it would be neat to have hunted venison here too! Yeah great, let’s bring in animal diseases and parasites from Europe, too, while we’re at it! Sheesh. (Various exotic ticks, worms, virii etc) 

I think killing feral cats is necessary too and that TNR would never be effective.  Although I hate to imagine a cat in pain if it isn't killed quickly, the health of the entire ecosystem and survival of entire species should take priority.  

The "alley cat ally" argument that killing feral cats is too cruel to condone strikes me as hypocritical, since few cat defenders are vegetarians and few object to hunting other species.  Even if a cat defender was personally consistent and was a vegetarian who objected to all hunting, if that cat defender had their own pet cats, that person is creating animal cruelty to livestock since cat food is (obviously) meat.  

Does hunting contribute too animal suffering overall?  Please.  Cats themselves are notorious sadists.  That NYTimes article documents very clearly that cats barely eat a lot of the animals they kill.  I don't know why the short-term pain of one feral cat should be considered worse than the pain of the 1,000+ native animals it would kill in just a single year.

Cat defenders say "the real problem is habitat loss," but that's a red herring argument, since feral cats are wrecking ecological havoc in wilderness and rural areas where habitat loss isn't an issue.  They are decimating marsupial, bird, and reptile species that can exist in suburbia (like native possums).  

Pro-TNR people say that killing doesn't work because of a "vacuum effect" where populations replace killed animals, but the same problem exists in TNR, after cats die of natural causes, and in the mean time, sterilized cats can still go on killing 3-4 animals a day.  If a feral cat is killed, in just one year, over 1,000 birds, reptiles, and native marsupials will get to live and hopefully contribute to a population rebound. 

As a cat lover, it's painful to read about Australia's culling of feral cats, and I don't believe that in most communities in the U.S., it would be necessary to undertake the mass slaughter of feral cats, despite their indisputable predatory nature.  One reason for that is that in many communities in this country, including this one, feral cat caretakers feed the animals and reduce, if not eliminate, the cats' predatory drive, as well as manage the colonies, picking up, at great cost to themselves, the kittens, raising them to an adoptable age and turning them into family pets.  However, after reading about how Australian feral cats in the wild seem to have almost evolved into a super-predator sub species, I can understand the necessity for eliminating a large swath of them, while hoping that Australians will embrace TNVR as a superior way of reducing the proliferation of cats.  In researching this issue, I came across an article about the genesis of the problem.

Apparently, cats, brought to Australia by Europeans, were considered welcome predators, because it was thought that they would control the rabbit population, also introduced to the continent by Europeans.  We humans should attempt to right the natural balance that we have destroyed as a result of our careless inattention to various aspects of the environment, and cats should be kept indoors.  But that's my idealism talking.  Since humans are careless and cats are allowed outdoors, encouraging pet owners to spay and neuter their animals and encouraging communities to promote TNVR is the humane way to control cat populations.  Evidence suggests that TNVR works, if it's consistently implemented.  

I embrace TNR here, but in Australia TNR won't work, and considering their geography and the scope of the issue it would actually be an inferior method simply because the cats are spread over the entire continent.  People in Australia are mostly based on the coasts.  The majority of Australia has extremely large swaths of land where the human population is minuscule, to say the least.  TNR works in urban and suburban populated areas, Australia's cat problem is nationwide.  

Killing cats sounds horrible, but by allowing feral cats to live on, even if spayed and neutered, the result is killing native wildlife, in some cases to the point of extinction.  BOTH choices end up in the destruction of animals.  Australians should not be made to feel guilty for dealing with an issue that has no easy answer.  They're doing the best they can, and even as a cat lover I agree with them the endangered native wildlife has to come first. 

It was buried in my comments about TNVR in this country, but yes, I agree, sadly, that killing feral cats in Australia is probably necessary.  

Ell_Cee, cats came way before rabbits. Some are thought to have come with the earliest merchants and explorers via Indonesia to NW Australia (isolated ships' strays, coming ashore and being left behind, probably dying out). Others are known to have arrived on the ships carrying the First Fleet (the equivalent of your Mayflower settlers).

Matthew Flinders circumnavigated the continent with a cat as his companion.

I don't believe anyone seriously accepts the theory that cats were imported to reduce plague rabbit numbers - by the time rabbits were an environmental problem, feral cats were one too, as were foxes, goats, pigs and camels.

I didn't say that cats came after rabbits.  Yes, the cats were there, then the rabbits were imported.  Because the rabbits reproduced, well, like rabbits, the cats' predation of the creatures was welcomed, thus creating yet another problem.  The law of unintended consequences, as usual.

The article sets out the history of cats in Australia, as well as approaches to management, and calls for a consideration of TNVR, or TNR, as an adjunct approach to killing the feral cats.  It a long read, but an informative one.  Here's the start:

In NSW, free-roaming cats are regarded as one the biggest threats to biodiversity. Yet, at one stage they were classified as “the enemy of the rabbit” and were protected and released in their thousands. The purpose of this article is to examine the changing status of cats in Australia, demonstrating that regulation frequently depends on a narrow set of values based on the usefulness of cats at a given point in time. By the late twentieth century, the status of free-roaming cats had changed from enemy of the rabbit, to threat to biodiversity and then in the twenty-first century, to a risk to biosecurity.

I'm sorry if I misrepresented your view. I'm well over 60, and have never met or heard of anyone, anywhere here presenting the view that feral cats will help lower rabbit numbers so are useful. 

The neutering approach is used when possible for urban strays, including in regional population centres. That's been standard policy for very many decades. 

Ferals are different, as has been recognised for well over a century. You only need to go through some Depression era newspapers, or earlier Great Strike newspapers (1890s) to see that. 

The cat as rabbit predator was a 19th Century bad idea.  Here are some edited paragraphs from the article:

Friend of the Settler and Enemy of the Rabbit: Observations from Natural History

The fortunes of the cat in Australia were closely connected with the introduction of the rabbit, an event which occurred during the nineteenth century and which coincided with land management practices that fostered the introduction and removal of species with impunity.

Friend of the Settler and Enemy of the Rabbit

Although debate surrounds the manner and timing of the introduction of cats, records indicate that they arrived in 1788, at the time of European occupation14. In the early days of NSW, cats were valued for their skill in controlling rats and mice and also as a companion animal, a role that increased throughout the nineteenth century as Australia adopted the European practice of breeding show cats15. Both the aesthetic and practical appeal of cats secured their position, so that by the late nineteenth century, cats had spread throughout 90% of the continent16. They had become a feature of colonial life, yet for much of the nineteenth century they were not at the forefront of settlers' lives. Cats, for example, were not considered especially advantageous or overly detrimental. Accordingly, they escaped the type of treatment meted out to free-roaming dogs, dingoes, kangaroos, quolls, and wallabies, who were earmarked for destruction because of their perceived danger to humans and/or threat to primary production17. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, however, the status of the cat was about to change, its fortunes being dramatically linked with the fortunes of another introduced animal, the rabbit.

As with the introduction of cats, domesticated rabbits were brought to Australia in 1788 (16). However, it was not until 1859 when Thomas Austin released wild rabbits into the state of Victoria that rabbits established themselves and proliferated (16). Their impact on the Australian economy was devastating, prompting inquiries, a Royal Commission, and legislation that imposed obligations on landholders to poison rabbits and build exclusion fencing.[....]  18

Authorities were impelled to consider alternative measures and they turned to finding the rabbit's natural enemies, who could reduce rabbit numbers to a “natural level,” restoring nature's equilibrium21. Accordingly, legislation from 1883 provided that the governor could declare an animal the natural enemy of the rabbit22. Once this occurred, the animal became legally protected against killing, capturing or disposal23. Numerous declarations were made, evincing strong belief in the restorative power of domesticated and free-roaming cats, “iguanas” (goannas), and “native cats” (quolls) as enemies of the rabbit24.

The strength of belief was reinforced by opinion pieces and letters to the editor, as well as by enthusiastic explanations accompanying reports of declarations25.” [....] This atmosphere of optimism encouraged the release of cats from NSW in the east to Western Australia in west, leading to the demand for cats quickly exceeding supply28. Events at Warrialpha station in South Australia were typical, where the landholder called for the release of additional cats, despite the fact that the station already contained some 5,000 of these animals29. Indeed, the notion of cats as an effective bulwark against rabbits persisted into the twentieth century, with one government stock inspector of 18 years' experience declaring that he knew: “…of no more formidable enemy of the rabbit than the domestic cat in a wild state30.” Yet, farmers had already observed that notwithstanding how many rabbits were killed, their numbers quickly recovered31. In particular, by the early twentieth century commentators observed that decades of killing and poisoning had failed to reduce numbers in the long-term32.

This has been disproved as a theory, as Dr Karl has explained many times. It’s based on faulty interpretation of contextual data.

Dr Karl has access to the same Victorian and NSW records. 

Another stealth invader: 

What has been disproved as a theory?  This is fact rather than theory:

"Accordingly, legislation from 1883 provided that the governor could declare an animal the natural enemy of the rabbit22. Once this occurred, the animal became legally protected against killing, capturing or disposal23. Numerous declarations were made, evincing strong belief in the restorative power of domesticated and free-roaming cats, “iguanas” (goannas), and “native cats” (quolls) as enemies of the rabbit24."

it doesn’t explain the vast numbers of feral cats elsewhere in our continent. That’s what’s been disproved. Prior to that that time, cats had arrived in places where Europeans hadn’t yet been recognised as having jurisdiction, and had spread. This paper doesn’t discuss that nor most of the rest of the continent. 

The main reason why the settlers in Victoria of the era you’re highlighting (the Gold Rush and just after) tolerated cats was because they hunted what looked liked rodents - which includes rabbits but mostly includes small native marsupials that are now mostly wiped out. You just didn’t say ‘rodents’ in polite society. People lived in tent cities or slums, saw a small critter with a long tail scurrying up a tree or across the floor and thought it was a rat not a tree kangaroo; they didn’t stop to consider it had a pouch with babies. That’s one colony out of six, in a continent the size of the USA and most of it is sparsely inhabited. So the Victorian State legislation doesn’t matter that much overall.

You’ve read a couple of articles. You have some knowledge.

I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve heard the increasingly grim research from the archaeologists, the rangers and the RSPCA vets especially over the last 50 years urging  people not to release pets into the wild, and discussing their historical research. 

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