VOICES FOR THE EARTH: Domestic cats and wildlife
THE impact of domestic cats on native biodiversity was highlighted in a Clarence Council decision on August 25. In approving a proposed 12 large-lot subdivision at James Creek, council inserted a new condition of consent prohibiting pet cats in the subdivision. The development site is home to a range of small marsupials including the common planigale, sugar glider, bandicoot and squirrel glider – species which would be vulnerable to cat predation.
The extensive damage to wildlife caused by the millions of feral cats ranging across the nation has been known for years. Until recent years there has been less attention given to the havoc created by domestic or pet cats. In May an article in The Conversation analysed 66 different studies on pet cats to assess their impact on wildlife.
Australia has an estimated 3.8 million domestic cats with over a quarter of Australian households having pet cats – some with two or more. As 1.1 million of these cats are contained 24 hours a day, they are not a threat to biodiversity. However, the remaining 2.7 million are free to roam and hunt. An individual roaming pet cat is estimated to kill 186 reptiles, birds and mammals per year – most of them native species.
Apparently many owners believe their cats do not hunt because they have not seen evidence of killed animals. However, studies using video tracking collars or scat analysis have shown that many cats kill animals without bringing them home.
Some owners are unaware that their pets are getting out at night and hunting. An Adelaide study, using radio tracking, found that while the owners of 177 cats believed their pets were inside at night, 69 were “sneaking out for nocturnal adventures”.
So what can pet owners do to ensure their cats are not killing wildlife?
Giving the cat a good diet and feeding it more meat won’t prevent it from hunting as even cats that are not hungry will hunt. While various devices such as bells on collars may reduce the rate of kills, they do not prevent hunting altogether.
The only way of preventing cats from killing wildlife is to keep them contained for 24 hours a day.