Species

Urban Wildlife and Responsible Cat Ownership

If I were a feral cat, I would steadily be getting more and more concerned about my wellbeing. In order to halt the decimation of our native wildlife, the Federal Government has recently released the Threatened Species Strategy. Part of this strategy is a pledge to humanely remove two million free-living feral cats from wild areas across the nation.

For many, this is a long-awaited development in our fight against extinction. Cats were introduced to Australia with the arrival of European settlement. Since their introduction, Australia has lost 29 native mammal species, with feral cats implicated as one of the main causes for the extinction of 20 of them. Furthermore, the Action Plan for Australian Mammals, released in June 2014, concluded that 55 species of native wildlife are threatened and require urgent conservation action.

If you’re a cat owner like me, you may be thinking: “So what? My cat isn’t feral, she hardly EVER brings anything home, and she is far too lovely to be categorised as a ferocious predator!” But you would be wrong (I’m sorry, I know it hurts to hear it).

Domestic cats ( Felis catus ) are a major threat to Australian mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Photo: Billy Geary

Domestic cats (Felis catus) are a major threat to Australian mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Photo: Billy Geary

While research on the impact of domestic cats on native wildlife is scarce compared to that of feral cats, it suggests that domestic and stray cats do negatively impact many of our native species. For example, domestic cats have been implicated in the decline of the Superb Lyrebird in Sherbrooke Forest, and in the decline of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot in south-western Victoria. In the case of the bandicoot, cats were responsible for at least 42 percent of deaths in juveniles. Other studies have found that 50 to 80 percent of cats partake in hunting activities, but that the cats only brought between one third and one half of their prey items home.

I’ll admit it, I don’t like to think of my moggy as a parrot-eating, spinebill-chasing huntress, but our urban wildlife is too important to ignore this problem any longer.

In recent years, many councils have moved to reduce the impact of pet cats on native wildlife in their municipalities by imposing cat curfews. In the City of Wyndham in Melbourne’s north-west, cats must remain on their owner’s properties between the hours of 10pm and 6am, and between 8pm and 6am in the City of Whitehorse in Melbourne's east. The Yarra Ranges Council has gone a step further, requiring that cats must stay on their owner’s property at all times.

It's hard to believe that my little fluff-ball is contributing to the loss of our urban wildlife, but it is something that I must accept responsibility for. Photo: Emma Walsh 

It's hard to believe that my little fluff-ball is contributing to the loss of our urban wildlife, but it is something that I must accept responsibility for. Photo: Emma Walsh 

So what can you do to limit your feline friend’s impact on our native birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs? For starters, you can have your moggy desexed. This won't stop your cat from hunting, but it will eliminate any chance of it contributing to the proliferation of feral and stray cat populations. This will also help to reduce the number of dumped and unwanted cats that overrun animal shelters every year. If you are looking for a more direct approach, there are things like brightly coloured cat bibs which bring the cat to the prey’s attention, or other apron-like collar attachments which interfere with paw-eye coordination to reduce the wearer’s chance of a successful pounce. Finally, you can keep your cat indoors as much as possible. This is the most effective way of protecting our fauna, and also limits your cat’s chances of being injured in a road accident or catfight.

It’s difficult to acknowledge that your furry friend may be feasting on native animals behind your back, but acceptance is the first step to solving the problem. By making a few calculated commitments towards limiting your felines take-away habits, you can help to halt the decline of our urban wildlife. 

Threatened Species Summit

Next week, the first Threatened Species Summit will be held at Melbourne Zoo. The Federal Government has invited 250 environmental science leaders from across Australia to network and talk conservation.

The Summit will be held in Melbourne on the 16th July. 

The Summit will be held in Melbourne on the 16th July. 

Given Australia’s wildlife is in dire straits, this is an important set of discussions to have. However, governments are increasingly recognising the issue and putting some effort into halting species loss. Most recently, the New South Wales Government announced a partnership with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy to restore habitat and a raft of species in select national parks in the State. It’s initiatives like this, focusing on large-scale restoration, that are required across Australia.

This week, Wild Melbourne was able to chat to Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews about the Summit. He describes the Summit as being able to “…raise the national profile of Australia’s extinction crisis, mobilise new resources and partnerships, and kick-start the science, action and partnership-based approach to threatened species recovery that is outlined in the Threatened Species Strategy, which Minister Hunt will launch at the beginning of the Summit.” 

According to Andrews, the new Threatened Species Strategy is a line-in-the-sand moment for Australian conservation: “Clearly, ‘business as usual’ for threatened plants and animals in Australia would mean more extinctions. Our threatened species deserve no less, and by working on the basis of science, focusing on practical action, and partnering with state and territory governments and the community, it’s possible.”

The impacts of feral cats on our native animals will be a significant focus of both the Summit and the Strategy. Here, a feral cat carries off its dinner for the night, a bandicoot. Photo: Billy Geary

The impacts of feral cats on our native animals will be a significant focus of both the Summit and the Strategy. Here, a feral cat carries off its dinner for the night, a bandicoot. Photo: Billy Geary

The Strategy will focus on community action and partnerships, following from Andrews’ work across Australia over the past year: “My office and I have reached out to the community, forged partnerships and worked collaboratively with all levels of government, scientists, ‘Friends of’ groups, the non-profit sector and industry to secure more resources, build innovative approaches, encourage better coordination of conservation efforts, share information and promote action. I have been particularly humbled, but also enthused by the effort and care that so many Australian communities have for our unique animals and plants.”

Importantly, the Summit and the release of the new Strategy will thrust the plight of Australia’s threatened species into the national spotlight. As the Commissioner told Wild Melbourne, “our threatened animals and plants are ours to protect and we all have a role to play.”

The Threatened Species Summit promises to be an interesting day of discussion that the public will be able to follow online by webcast on the Threatened Species Commissioner’s website and via the official Summit hashtag on Twitter: #TSsummit