The Committee recommends that the Australian Government recognise and prioritise the problem of feral cats in Australia consistent with its status as a matter of national environmental significance, that must be addressed effectively to ensure the continued survival of Australia’s native wildlife and ecological communities.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government undertake a body of work to improve understanding of the impact of feral, stray and domestic cats in Australia by:
a. Collaborating with state and territory governments and other relevant stakeholders to develop and adopt a consistent definition of feral, stray and domestic cats, to be applied across national, state, territory and local government legislative and regulatory frameworks relating to cats.
b. Commissioning further research on:
i. the prevalence, impact and control of feral, stray and domestic cats including in urban environments;
ii. emerging cat control methodologies such as gene drive technology;
iii. the impacts and management of toxoplasmosis and other cat-borne diseases on native species and productive farmland; and
iv. the relationship between habitat degradation and cat predation, including with respect to bushfire impacts.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government develop a clear strategy to inform its resourcing of and response to the problem of feral cats, including through a ‘reset’ of its current policy and planning. This should comprise:
a. A new iteration of the Threat Abatement Plan for predation by feral cats addressing:
i. how it is to be evaluated, implemented, and resourced; and
ii. a requirement that the Australian Government work with state and territory governments to develop complementary and localised plans.
b. A revised Threatened Species Strategy comprising:
i. relevant targets focused on the rehabilitation of threatened species and ecological communities, accompanied by details of how each target will be achieved, resourced and reported; and
ii. restatement of the need to cull feral cats, with new targets for culling consistent with contemporaneous prevalence data.
c. Appropriate consideration of reform opportunities identified through the current review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and its administration, including but not limited to:
i. the extent to which recovery plans are created and their actions resourced [see paragraph 3.18].
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government spearhead, in partnership with the states and territories, an expansion of Australia’s network of predator-free safe-haven enclosures and feral cat-free islands through a new program, Project Noah, as a new national conservation mission.
The expansion of feral-free areas should be opportunistic in terms of land and island availability, but also specifically identify and reference species that can be saved through Project Noah, as part of the Conservation Advices, Recovery Plans and Key Threatening Processes. Governments should work to create feral-free areas across a range of ecosystems and be ambitious in their scale.
Wherever possible, Project Noah projects should be developed in partnership with communities, the private sector and philanthropic groups, based on proven models such as those that have been developed with organisations like the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in partnership with the states and territories, develop a clear strategy for the management of stray and domestic cats. The strategy should feature the following measures:
a. Develop and disseminate best practice domestic and stray cat management strategies, including increasing public awareness of the impact of cats on Australia’s native wildlife and habitats.
b. Develop a positive national cat ownership education campaign to be delivered through the Australian Veterinary Association, local councils and community groups.
c. Reduce the barriers to responsible domestic cat ownership with programs to support desexing, registration, and microchipping for domestic cats, as well as night curfew and containment programs.
d. Require all local governments to actively consider whether night-time curfews should be put in place for all or part of their areas of responsibility.
e. Design and implement a pilot program for subsidised or free desexing of pet cats in areas of high need, redeemable through vouchers issued by veterinarians or local governments in targeted locations.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government develop a governance framework to give effect to the new strategies and programs outlined in recommendations 3, 4 and 5. This should include governance measures that:
a. Expand the membership of the National Feral Cat Taskforce to include experts on agricultural and veterinary issues, including the ethical treatment of animals, and any other matters deemed relevant.
b. Strengthen the remit of the National Feral Cat Taskforce to enable it to lead a process to harmonise existing feral cat legislation and regulation across Australia. In particular, a strengthened Taskforce should:
i. review the effectiveness and consistency of current state and territory feral cat legislation, regulation and management plans;
ii. develop principles for the harmonisation of existing state and territory feral cat-related legislative and regulatory instruments to the best-practice standard; and
iii. develop principles for best practice cat management plans.
c. Establish a mechanism for collaboration with state and territory Environment Ministers and relevant agencies, to improve harmonisation of legislative and regulatory approaches, and best practice principles, in relation to domestic and stray cats.
d. Remove barriers to the full implementation by all jurisdictions of the National Declaration: feral cats as pests.
e. Facilitate collaboration with relevant Commonwealth agencies, scientists and states and territories to consider the most effective feral cat control methods, and provide advice on the broad scale usage of these methods.
f. Ensure that local governments are resourced appropriately to deal with cats, including requiring all local governments to develop and implement domestic cat management plans consistent with relevant state and territory laws.
g. Develop principles for local government animal management staff to manage local cat issues, including easily accessible resources.