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A curfew for cats? To protect endangered wildlife, the environment minister is consulting the public

Tanya Plibersek is seeking out solutions to reduce the volumes of wildlife hunted by both feral and domestic cats across Australia

Lisa Hamilton
Written by
Lisa Hamilton
Time Out editors

As federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek announced the addition of more than 40 new animals and plants to Australia’s list of threatened wildlife, she called for urgent measures to be implemented around cats, especially feral cats. Feral cats kill about 2 billion animals per year, so the federal government has drafted a proposal to tackle the feral cat problem, which has this month been released for public consultation.

However, it's not only feral felines facing regulations. Domestic pet cats also contribute to the killing of native wildlife. There are about 5.3 million pet cats in Australia, and they're estimated to kill 546 million animals per year (including 323 million native animals), according to recent research by the Australian National University conducted for the Biodiversity Council, Invasive Species Council and Birdlife Australia.

An estimated 71 per cent of all pet cats in Australia roam – and 78 per cent of these roaming cats hunt, according to the Invasive Species Council. Most of the wildlife that these cats kill (about 85 per cent) isn't brought home, so often pet owners aren't aware of the problem.

Professor Sarah Legge of the Australian National University explains that domestic cats have impacts on native wildlife in a variety of ways: not only do they hunt, but non-desexed pet cats contribute to feral cat populations when they produce unwanted litters, and domestic cats can of course become feral cats.

Australia has lost more native mammal species than any other continent in the world, with more than 100 species listed as either extinct or extinct in the wild, and invasive species are the number one cause of this biodiversity loss, hence conservationists' and Plibersek's call for urgent action.

When speaking to the media last week, Plibersek ensured the public that matters of public opinion will be weighed up after asking a number of important questions on the issue. She said: “This consultation paper will ask really important questions, like, ‘Should we have a cat curfew? Should local governments have more opportunity to restrict the ownership of cats in their area?’”  

As these are sensitives matter that split opinions, it comes as no surprise that Plibersek has opened the proposed plan for public review and feedback – Australians have until December 11, 2023 to respond, to ensure that all sides and opinions have been considered.

Despite being open to the crowdsourcing of solutions, Plibersek went on to offer a grave warning about the future of Australia’s biodiversity if action isn't taken. "[Feral cats] played a role in Australia's two latest extinctions... they are one of the main reasons Australia is the mammal extinction capital of the world.

"If we don't act now, our native animals don't stand a chance."

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