News National The hearings to debate the future and fate of Australia’s cats

The hearings to debate the future and fate of Australia’s cats

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Your pet cat may seem harmless.

But each domestic cat kills, on average, 76 animals each year. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

In a single year, a feral feline in the bush kills 748 mammals, birds and reptiles, according to the National Environmental Science Program.

Stray cats fall between the two.

A feral cat roaming in rural Australia. Photo: AAP

Because they don’t have a home, they spend their lives roaming cities, towns and rural properties and kill on average one animal every day.

The problem in Australia has got so out of control that two open public hearings were held this week to examine how best to manage the impact of feral, stray and domestic cats on native wildlife and habitats.

And what can be done to control them.

A special inquiry by Environment Minister Sussan Ley will consider 128 submissions which had been made by the public to achieve effective control of cats. The final hearing will be on September 2.

And for many, it couldn’t come soon enough.

They’re multiplying fast, said David Moore who lives in country Victoria.

People would frequently drop off a “box of kittens” on the side of the road, Mr Moore said.

He would hear catfights at night and wake up to dead birds in his yard.

Dianne Kelly from south-east Queensland has the opposite problem.

She’s welcomed and nurtured local birdlife and other native animals but they end up disappearing from her garden and bush.

Ms Kelly blames her neighbours’ domestic cats being allowed to roam at night.

Animal lover Charles Davis went so far as to suggest that some species are at risk of extinction if the government doesn’t move quickly to protect wildlife habitats.

“Without habitats in which to hide from predators, our precious wildlife is in danger,” he said.

A feral cat with a dead native Australian bird. Photo: AAP

Mason Lalor fears a future where his children “will have to go to zoos to see the last ones or even museums to see what the last ones looked like”.

For almost three decades, Angela Turner lived just a kilometre away from the Grampians National Park in western Victoria.

“I trapped and took 15 cats to the Horsham pound. Another four cats were shot,” Ms Turner said, noting that all cats are “expert killers”.

One of the feral cats that was shot was found to have eaten 39 small animals including insects, lizards, birds and mice.

About one in four Australian households own a cat, a 2019 survey by Animal Medicines Australia found.

Feral Animal Control suggested inserting a microchip into pet cats, castrating them and killing those that have been “dumped by owners”.

However, it must not be forgotten the essential role they play in supporting the health and wellbeing of their owners, the Cat Protection Society of Victoria said.

It referred to a Beyond Blue testimonial which read: “I have a black cat named Buddy and he’s my life, basically. I have no friends or contact with family currently, so he’s it.

“Knowing he’s around is a great comfort and during bad periods he’s generally the only thing that gets me out of bed.”

The average domestic cat is said to kill 76 animals each year. Photo: AAP

But domestic cats aren’t free to roam around at night and in the early hours of the morning in some parts of the country.

For example, Bayside City Council in Melbourne and Mount Barker District Council in the Adelaide Hills, have cat curfews.

The Australian Wildlife Society said responsible pet owners de-sex, microchip and register their cats.

It suggested de-sexing all cats to “reduce the number of unwanted cats born each year”.

When it came to feral cats, Andreas Glanznig, chief executive of Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, recommended implementing “integrated predator management programs where rabbits are prevalent” and “strategic planning for a genetic biocontrol for feral cats”.

In his submission to the inquiry, Kyle Grant suggested increasing participation in hunting.

“Firearm and hunting enthusiasts are being largely overlooked as a whole when it comes to controlling and reducing feral cats,” he wrote.

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