Friday, April 10, 2015

To Kill, or not To Kill - Can the Australian Govt. Decide?

                                                    Photo courtesy of Troy Snow

We were caught by surprise this week when the Australian government’s Department of the Environment said something quite interesting in its Draft Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats: “Although total mainland eradication may be the ideal goal of a feral cat threat abatement plan, it is not feasible with current or foreseeable resources or techniques.”

Hold on, it is not even possible to eradicate feral cats, now nor in the future? But, the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, told Australian television last October, “I would like to see that within a decade we have effectively eradicated all of the significant populations of feral cats around Australia.” What gives? How can the minister be calling for something others in his own department say cannot be accomplished?

The contradiction between the draft plan and the minister is a clear example of modern science clashing with common misbeliefs about feral cats. New studies continue to show the ineffectiveness of lethal control policies, including one published in the February edition of Wildlife Research. That study from southern Tasmania, which is about 150 miles from the mainland coast, found the size of feral cat colonies had actually increased 75 to 211 percent after one year of culling. And yet again, we find within the plan that costs involved with killing are astronomical. Under the new draft plan, the price for trapping and shooting cats is estimated to be as high as $10,000 per week, and Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews said this week that “a back of the envelope cost to eradicate 1 million cats using shooting would cost $80 million.”

While it is heartening to find the Australian government coming to grips with the futility of eradication attempts, the draft plan is still wholly unacceptable due to its continued focus on lethal poisoning and baiting. In fact, developing new poison baits, and using them on a much wider scale, are two goals set separately as “very high” priorities. Two other “very high” priority goals for offshore islands call for eradication and efforts to ensure they remain “cat-free.” There are only six “very high priority” items total, and four have to do with killing cats.

The draft plan is fortunately not all gloom and doom. There are calls for more research into feral cat behavior, habitat, and predation, as well as money for non-lethal fencing to create protected “mainland islands” for endangered species. The plan also calls for an education campaign to inform the public of feral and domestic cat management issues.

While the draft plan is not solely focused on a campaign of killing, death by some means still forms the crux of Australia’s plan. The government does not recognize that killing a healthy, sentient animal is inhumane and morally wrong. Although … maybe it’s beginning to? The plan also states, “Shooting is most likely (emphasis added) to be humane when the shooters are experienced, skilled and responsible,” which implies the government recognizes that there are incidences when feral cats die inhumanely at the hands of humans.

While many of the plan’s details paint a grim picture for Australia’s feral cats, small details like this found in the language of legislation, and even whole sentences like the one regarding eradication that we began with, signal that our advocacy for no-kill policies and the humane treatment of animals is being heard and having an effect.

The draft plan is open for public comment until July 8, and instructions for commenting can be found here. Please take a few moments to register your thoughts because Australian government officials are listening. We petitioned Mr. Hunt just last year, and received a personalized response by mail, proving that if we continue to speak out on behalf of feral cats, our voices (and their meows) will be heard!

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