Cats are the single most destructive introduced species in Australia. They kill more than one million birds every day across Australia and are estimated to kill 377 million birds a year as well as threatening larger native wildlife.
The Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy “…identifies tackling feral cats as its top priority for action” and considers the threat from feral cats to be “…more than double that of red foxes, the next highest threat.”
So, surely, owning a cat is UnAustralian.
What is UnAustralian?
It is worth explaining the term ‘UnAustralian’ before we continue.
UnAustralian is a label given to any act that is considered contrary to Australia’s commonly accepted national values, or something that a real Australian just shouldn’t say or do.
Actions which could be labelled as UnAustralian include not eating Vegemite, saying ‘flip flops’ instead of ‘thongs’ or dobbing on your mates.
It could also include not having a nickname or not consuming enough alcohol.
You might be called UnAustralian if you fail to blindly support any sportsperson representing Australia or for stealing someone’s belongings from the sand while they swim at the beach. On a broader scale, it could also include supporting a revision of Australia’s colonial history or highlighting the country’s terrible treatment of its indigenous population.
Perhaps it is time to extend the term to include any action that continually and knowingly destroys Australia’s native wildlife and ecology, such as owning a cat.
Are cats really that destructive?
The Department of the Environment and Energy website explains that cats “…are found all over Australia in all habitats, including forests, woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and arid areas”
Although a ‘True Blue’ Aussie wouldn’t say “woodland, grassland and forest”, they’d say, “The Bush”.
Studies also indicate that cats have contributed to the extinction of more than 20 mammal species. Birds which have fallen victim to their daily expeditions come from 330 different native bird species, which is about half of all Australia’s residents bird species.
As far back as 1906 calls were made to address the problem of cats in the wide brown land. Ornithologist A.J. Campbell established a link between the arrival of cats to a location and a decline in native bird numbers.
The feral cat problem is so severe that the federal government recently announced $5 million in funding to be given to community groups which create programs to eradicate feral cats in their local area. This from a conservative government with a famously poor record on environmental policy.
But only feral cats destroy wildlife.
Pet cats also destroy native wildlife.
A recent study found that pet cats kill an estimated 61 million native birds per year.
Cats can be divided into two broad categories, owned and unowned. Owned cats are pets and domestic cats which are dependant upon their owners for food and care. Unowned cats have no owner, no permanent dwelling and survive on their considerable wits.
According to an article published in The Conversation in October, 2017, “…both owned and unowned cats can kill wildlife”
Also, cats are not native to any part of Australia, so where did feral cats come from?
But my cats are desexed.
Having a cat desexed does not stop it from killing. Consider the figures listed above, think about how many years the average cat lives and you will arrive at a rough figure of how much destruction a desexed cat can cause during its lifetime.
Desexing a cat only stops it from reproducing.
Owners might argue that desexing cats will eventually reduce the number of cats in Australia, but while most Australian cat owners have their cats desexed, there are still organisations which are breeding cats and will continue to do so as long as there is a demand for this industry and a buck to be made.
Cat breeding is increasing the number of cats in Australia and the quantity of cats makes protection of native wildlife very difficult.
My cat never leaves the house.
If you can guarantee that your cat never steps outside your front door, then you can patriotically declare yourself a responsible Aussie cat owner.
If you allow your cat to play in your garden, no matter how small that garden may be and no matter how deep inside the concrete jungle you reside, it is very likely that your cat is contributing to the destruction of wildlife.
As we’ve already established, cats are extremely effective hunters.
But I feed my cat well.
So do most owners, but any cat lover should know that cats don’t always kill for food. They kill for fun; to play. They kill out of instinct. They are born to hunt.
I use a cat enclosure.
Cat enclosures or cat runs can prevent cats from hunting native wildlife. This is only possible, however, if the cat is always enclosed, in the cat run or in the house. It is also interesting to note that an internet search of various cat enclosure company websites indicated a far greater concern for the safety of the cat than for native wildlife.
One such company, Cat Nets, boasted of its product’s ability to “…provide secure and fun spaces for…cats to safely enjoy the outdoors.”
It also informs consumers that,
“By enclosing your cat you can help eliminate risk of the following issues:
- Injured in fights.
- Hit by cars.
- Become lost
- Catch diseases
- Neighbourhood nuisence (sic) issues
- Legal requirements
- Wildlife safety”
What is overtly obvious from this website and others, apart from the poor use of the English language, is an overwhelming concern for the safety of the cat and not for native wildilfe, which is recognised only in the final “issue”, ‘wildlife safety’.
Various solutions have been suggested and trialled. None have succeeded. Baiting, culling, education, creation of Cat Free Zones, trapping and returning programs have all been discussed and implemented to varying degrees. Polarised debate from passionate supporters of both sides of the issue often prevents any successful action.
Some Australian local governments created Cat Free Zones in recognition of the damage done by domestic cats on a daily basis.
Cat Alliance Australia criticised this approach, arguing,
“Councils are even setting aside tracks (sic) of urban land as Cat Free Zones…a much better practice would be to educate people to keep their cats enclosed or to fence of (sic) sensitive areas.”
Is their a direct correlation between cat ownership and a poor grasp of the English language?
Clearly cat owners are not heeding calls to keep their cats enclosed. Meanwhile, Australia’s native wildlife is dying.
To all of the Aussie cat owners who let their cute, beloved, furry friends come and go as they please – Happy Australia Day.
- For whom the bell tolls: cats kill more than a million Australian birds every day. http://www.theconversation.com, Oct 4, 2017,
- War on Feral Cats: Australia Aims to Cull 2 million, http://www.smh.com.au, Feb 19, 2017.