Sure Cats Are Cute, But They’re Terrible For Our Wildlife

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The domestic cat has become a pretty controversial pet over the past few years.

There have been heaps of headlines about how many animals domestic and feral cats are killing, and some places want them banned completely.  

So what’s the big deal here? Is this being blown way out of proportion or should we be thinking more critically about our pets? 

How Dangerous Is A Cat? 

Cats are pretty wildly destructive.  

One study that came out last year found that pet cats were killing about 230 million native animals every year in Australia.  

Feral cats in the wild are an even bigger problem. Another study that came out recently showed that Australian wildlife were about 20 times more likely to be hunted by a cat than they were by native predators.  

And here’s the thing: there isn’t actually a huge amount of difference between the cats we own and the feral cats out in the wild.  

Rowena Hamer: “Realistically any cat can be regarded as a feral cat, it’s more about the context. So, a feral cat is basically defined as a cat that doesn’t rely on humans to live …they’re not biologically any different.”  

That’s Rowena Hamer, she was actually the researcher who did that native predator study.  

Cats are annoyingly great hunters and can survive in pretty much every Australian environment  

If they go for prey in open areas like fields and farmland, they can successfully make the kill about 70% of the time.  

RH: “What you end up with is this landscape with really high density [and] really specialised but different individuals  so if you’re a prey species that’s a little bit terrifying to be perfectly honest because there’s not much in the way of cat-free zones.” 

There are millions of them in the wild and they’ve been the prime suspect in 25 native animal extinctions 

So, What Can We Do About Our Cat Problem?  

There’ve been heaps of different suggestions about what Australia’s response to feral cats should look like. 

In central Australia, one wildlife conservation program basically just built a massive cat-proof fence that covers about 94 square kilometres.  

But that’s not exactly a solution that can be implemented everywhere.  

Back in 2015, the Australian Government announced that it wanted to kill 2 million feral cats, and in Queensland there’s even been a bounty put on them where hunters can collect $10 for every feral cat’s scalp.  

Rowena told me that mass culling isn’t actually the most effective way to protect the environment and that the killings have to be more targeted, but what we really need is a broader weapon against these cats. 

RH: “Long term we don’t really have the tools that would provide Australia-wide control of cats, that’s probably going to be something disease based or genetically based realistically, something like rabbit control.” 

Then there’s the question of what we should do about pet cats.  

Over in New Zealand, one town made a move to ban all pet cats from their community.  

Australia hasn’t gone that far, but some places have suggested banning them from being allowed outdoors at all.  

It’s obviously a pretty touchy subject because a lot of people love cats so much.  

Even Rowena said she grew up with catsbut she feels uncomfortable with the idea of owning one now.  

RH: I know people that have cats and are really responsible with them and keep them indoors and keep them in specially designed runsPersonally, I’m not sure if I could cope with that either. It becomes quite difficult if you’ve got an animal that is so devastating in our landscape that you can’t allow it to do any of its natural behaviours.  

The Takeaway 

Cats have been wreaking havoc on native wildlife for decades and with climate change and bushfires hitting our natural environment hard, maybe we need to reconsider how we own them.   

They make great pets, but it’s probably time to start having a more serious conversation about their impact, regardless of how cute they are.