The European settlement of Australia brought with it the introduction of a new species to the continent, Felis Catus (cats). Since then, domesticated cats have become a loved member of many Australian family homes. Contrastingly, feral cats have become a pervasive harmful aspect of Australia’s ecological story, and a significant environmental impact issue, contributing to biological decline (especially for smaller mammals), destroying habitats, and more recently, being declared as pests in most states and territories.
Both feral and domestic cats are present in large numbers across the nation. Estimates given to the inquiry indicate that there may be approximately 3.77 million pet cats and around 2.8 million feral cats in Australia.
Cats have been responsible for the rapid and catastrophic loss of wildlife, causing some species to become threatened, endangered and even extinct. Under the Australian Government’s Threat Abatement Plan, feral cats are recognised as a potential threat to 74 mammal species and sub-species as well as 40 birds, 21 reptiles and four amphibians. According to estimates, discussed further in Chapter 2, predation by cats is responsible for the loss of 1.6 billion native animals every year, with feral cats responsible for some 1.4 billion of this number. On average a single feral cat in the bush kills about 370 invertebrates, 44 frogs, 225 reptiles, 130 birds and 390 mammals per year. Pet cats collectively kill some 1 million animals per day.
Efforts have been underway for some time to manage the growth and spread of the cat population. A complex patchwork of laws and regulations sets up shared responsibilities between the Commonwealth, states, territories and local governments. The Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy provides an overarching architecture and targets, while the implementation of measures including feral cat culling and domestic cat controls are the primary domain of the states, territories and local government. Other factors contributing to the growth of the cat population in Australia include restrictions on the use of some control methodologies and limited community understanding of cat impacts.
Recognising the importance of the problem of the management and control of feral and domestic cats for both governments and communities, the Committee decided to conduct an inquiry and wrote to the Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Sussan Ley MP, proposing terms of reference.
Following the Minister’s agreement, on 18 June 2020, the Committee adopted and commenced an inquiry into the problem of feral and domestic cats in Australia (the inquiry).
The Committee received 202 submissions, 16 supplementary submissions, and held six public hearings in Canberra with the assistance of teleconferencing facilities. The Committee also conducted a site inspection at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary in Canberra’s north, where the Committee was provided with a tour of its feral predator-free fence. Details of submissions received and public hearings can be found in the appendices.
The Committee is grateful to all the individuals and organisations who contributed to the inquiry.
This report is divided into six chapters, including this introduction. Chapter 2 considers the prevalence and impact of feral and domestic cats in Australia. Chapter 3 examines Commonwealth, state and territory legislation, regulation, and cooperation. Chapter 4 looks at feral cat control methods. Chapter 5 discusses domestic cat control, and improved public awareness and education relating to the feral and domestic cat problem. Chapter 6 sets out the Committee’s views and recommendations.