Australia has a wild problem. A feral population of up to 6.3 million feral cats is wreaking havoc on the country's native wildlife species. In a controversial move, the government plans to cull 2 million of the wild felines.
Australia is big. In fact it's enormous. So it's scary to read that a startling 99.8% of the continent is occupied by feral cats destroying native habitats.
Now, the government plans to kill 2 million of these wild cats to help save the continent's threatened wildlife species.
Feral cats vs threatened species
The out-of-control feral cat population in Australia has long been a concern to environmentalists and conservation groups. It has now reached a critical point.
The Government's controversial culling plan, released in 2015, has been condemned by many around the world, including French animal rights activist and former actress/singer, Brigitte Bardot. However, many have also supported the idea noting the consequences for local wildlife.
When you step back and remove our cuddly, domesticated kitties from the equation, it's important to consider the wild, hunting instincts of cats. These feral cats live their lives away from a domesticated environment, fighting for food and survival, coupled with the instinct to procreate.
Having been introduced to Australia, these cats have significantly disrupted local ecosystems and rendered many native species extinct.
As many see it, Australia is in urgent need of a feral cat cull.
Australia's feral cat problem
There are no cat species native to Australia. They were first introduced in the late 18th or early 19th century. They were often brought across on boats to protect food and other supplies from local or other introduced rodent species, and also as pets.
At the time, spaying and neutering was not yet on the horizon. Many of these cats were intentionally released into the wild (to curb what settlers deemed to be "pests") and their numbers began to grow rapidly.
When you consider that in just seven years one unspayed female cat and her offspring can produce anywhere from 350,000 to 420,000 kittens, you can imagine how quickly these numbers spiralled.
Researchers now believe that Australia's out-of-control feral cat population peaks at around 6.3 million. They also believe the cats are responsible for the extinction of 20 native wildlife species, as well as having placed many more on the endangered list. Meanwhile, 123 threatened species continue to be a target.
Sadly, Australia has one of the highest rates of native wildlife extinction in the world.
Curbing the numbers
A number of both lethal and non-lethal methods have already been implemented as part of the government's plan. These have included cat-exclusion fences, trap-neuter-release (TNR) schemes, the use of lethal baits, shooting, and humane euthanasia.
While some of these methods have been more successful than others, their impact continues to be outweighed by the sheer number of the wild animals.
Death by (poisoned) sausage
One method being used gained worldwide attention earlier this year over its use of the humble sausage.
These sausages contain sodium fluoroacetate, a naturally-occurring toxin found in over 100 species of Australian plants. Non-toxic to the country's native animals, it is lethal to any non-native animal. Cats.
These baited sausages have been airdropped in areas ravaged by the feral cat population. However, some have questioned whether it is a humane means of killing.
There are those who argue that trap-neuter-release schemes should be implemented as a means of preventing the cats' ongoing procreation. However, for this to be effective, a reported 75% or more of the 6.3 million feral cat population would need to be sterilised. That's 4,725,000 feral cats!
Those on the ground state that trapping and catching such a huge number of feral cats is near impossible. Not only do cats prefer moving prey to bait, they don't walk into cage traps, they are difficult to locate given the size of their environment making hunting and shooting difficult, and they tend to avoid humans. They also quickly recolonise eradicated areas.
Despite campaigns against its plan, the Australian government is pressing on and hopes to eradicate about 1/3 of the local feral cat population by 2020.
It's a very difficult task for a very difficult and ethically-charged situation.
What are your views on this feral cat cull?
You might also like to read: How to solve the pet overpopulation crisis.