Pets or Pests? How Australia Tackles its Two Cat Populations

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Julia Bergin, a reporter based in the Northern Territory.

No amount of gentle coaxing, regimented training, rehabilitation or punishment could ever prompt cats to ignore their killer instincts. Like their feral counterparts, even the most domesticated felines threaten any potential prey they find.

In Australia, where feral cat populations are managed with substantial amounts of federal money, time and resources, the management of domestic animals — specifically, pet cats — falls to state and local governments.

But there is growing pressure from local councils and animal management groups to unify efforts to monitor both populations, because house cats breed just as fast, eat just as much and can wreak as much havoc on native wildlife as feral cats.

If the nation is serious about cracking down on feral cats, said Nell Thompson, the secretary of the Australian Institute of Animal Management, the Australian government should stop separating their handling from that of domestic cats. “Both are national issues,” she said.

The challenge, she added, has more to do with humans than cats. Ms. Thompson said the current approach is plagued by poor communication with cat owners, poor funding from governments and poor data collection.

In Australia’s desert center, the Alice Springs Town Council has a dedicated team for managing domestic cats. The council levies hefty penalties for wandering house cats (the offense of “animal at large” comes with an $880 fine), employs cat traps and a web of trail cameras and promotes the use of “catariams,” or caged enclosures.

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