Whether your a dog or a cat person, it makes for shocking reading that cats are being hunted and killed in Australia.
The country aims to kill 2 million feral cats by 2020, and as you can imagine, the plan caused considerable uproar. Users on social media have made their feelings very clear, especially after an article titled, “Australia plans to kill millions of feral cats by airdropping sausages laced with poison” went viral earlier this year. Not the subtlest of titles. But however disgusted you might be, this cat culling is actually meant to protect a number of native Australian species who are facing extinction.
In the name of protection
Fun fact: cats are not actually native to Australia. They were probably brought over by Europeans in the 1700s with other animals like pigs, goats and foxes. But unlike the others, they have caused a devastating impact on the environment and in the mind of the Australian government, enough is enough.
Research was conducted and published in the Journal of Biogeography in 2015. It revealed that these feral cats were merrily feasting on over 400 vertebrate species, including the Rufous hare-wallaby pictured above. Other vulnerable animals include the bilby, western ground parrot and numbat. Gregory Andrews, the former Threatened Species Commissioner highlighted the urgency of the situation, saying, “Australia is the only continent on Earth other than Antarctica where the animals evolved without cats, which is a reason our wildlife is so vulnerable to them. This reinforces the need to cull feral cats humanely and effectively.”
In a nutshell, none of Australia’s native animals have had to defend themselves against our feline friends and now they’re feeling the strain… and pain come to think of it. And because these cats are feral, there’s no hope in training them, so getting rid of them seems to be the only option for the government.
With these stats made public, many organizations that initially condemned the idea now support it. PETA Australia have come round to the government’s way of thinking and “in principle recognized that feral cats hunted wildlife to a point at which species can no longer survive,” as the NYT reported.
The ornithologist John Woinarski also stressed how important this scheme is. “At least one, and probably two, Australian mammals have been made extinct in the last decade, and if current trends continue many of the 55 threatened species will disappear within our lifetimes,” he explained. “If we had to choose one key action to conserve Australia’s biodiversity it would be the control or eradication of feral cats, which currently threaten at least 100 mammal species.”
Several plans were considered to decrease the number of these cats. The most popular way is to bait them with poisoned sausages. It’s a mixture of kangaroo, chicken, some herbs and spices to give it depth of flavor and the cherry on top of the sausage-themed cake… 1080 poison which will kill the cat within 15 minutes. “They’ve got to taste good,” said Shane Morse, candidly.
Other methods include a system in which anyone who shoots a feral cat will be rewarded $10. This method poses its own risks though; being such nimble, fast animals, they can be hard to shoot at a distance and one bad shot could result in a serious injury and a slow, painful death. They also considered an immunocontraceptive programme which modifies the immune system to make them infertile. It would certainly have long-term benefits in reducing the population. In fact, this method was used to minimise the population of feral goats and achieved a 89% reduction. This technology still hasn’t been tested in Australia.
After considering all the options, poisoned sausages seemed like the most humane and effective way of achieving results. Don’t be fooled; poisoning these cats wasn’t the team’s first choice. They also considered controlling the cat’s population by air, but with the country being the mammoth size it is, it would be too expensive and wouldn’t guarantee success.
Are felines friends or foe?
This project is solely focussed on feral cats and those who think that Australians have a personal vendetta against cats are mistaken. Cats are pets over there too! However, responsible pet owners must make sure that their cats don’t attack the birdlife or cause harm to reptiles or small animals that live nearby. Cats are natural predators and will attack smaller animals, often playing with them until they are dead. In fact, domestic cats are just as dangerous to the surrounding wildlife and on average, owners will only see 23% of their cats’ victims.
Andrews responded to the backlash to the Sydney Morning Herald, saying, “We are not culling cats for the sake of it, we are not doing so because we hate cats. We have got to make choices to save animals that we love, and who define us as a nation.”
So, if you thought Australia was a cat-hating nation, think again. When it comes to conservation, unfortunately sometimes you’ve got to lose some to win some.
Photo credits: thenational.ae, Mother Nature Network, australiangeographic.com.au, Wikimedia/Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery.