There is no silver bullet for Australia’s cat problem, but a complete reset of the Federal Government’s approach to feline control is needed, according to the final report from the national inquiry into the issue.

Key points:

  • Australia’s 2.8 million feral cats kill close to 3 billion native animals annually
  • The national feral cat inquiry has recommended further culling and more fenced, predator-free safe havens for native animals
  • Domestic cats could also face greater scrutiny and tougher restrictions

The inquiry made a series of recommendations including more culling, greater cooperation with state governments and a new national conservation program called Project Noah, which would create more fenced safe havens and feral-cat-free islands.

Domestic cats did not escape scrutiny, with the inquiry recommending a national management strategy that would encourage responsible cat ownership through more desexing, registration, microchipping and an enforceable night-time curfew.

The LNP Member for Fairfax, Ted O’Brien, said he was shocked when he saw how bad the problem was.

“That’s the big thing that really allowed the penny to drop for me as the chair of this committee, to think that the average feral cat kills 1,100 animals per year — that is just amazing,” he said.

“That’s 3 billion native animals, on average, every single year.

Mr O’Brien said the centrepiece of the committee’s recommendations: Project Noah, was born out of necessity.

“For the short to medium term, we know that we won’t have the technology available to cull feral cats at the scale required, and in the affordable and humane way that’s needed,” he said.

“We need to buy time for our threatened species and one of the proven methods has been these predator-free areas.”

A single feral cat can kill as many as 1,100 native animals every year.(Supplied: Mark Marathon)

Predator-proof fencing ‘effective’ control measure

Arid Recovery wildlife reserve in far north South Australia is a predator-free area and its general manager Katherine Tuft says its model has proven to work.

“Putting up a predator-proof fence is the most effective way of dealing with feral cats,” she said.

“So long as you maintain it, you can return all sorts of vulnerable species [to the area] that can’t exist with cats.

“It’s quite an effort to put up one of these fences — they’re not a standard, stock fence.

“That being said, I think there’s an enormous potential for more of these fenced reserves, especially to coordinate together and target the less well-represented threatened species.”

Katherine Tuft says predator-proof fences are very effective at keeping feral cats out.(ABC North and West: Gary-Jon Lysaght)

But Dr Tuft said the reserves would need constant upkeep and attention because a single breach could spell disaster.

“We’ve had a couple of cats that have slipped into the reserve over the years and it’s a huge effort to get them out — that’s why you need people on the ground every day,” she said.

“Cats can take a pretty big toll relatively quickly.

“We’ve had incidents where a cat has got in and definitely caused declines in some species before we could catch it, and others where we were able to get on top of the cat more swiftly.”

Pet containment questions

The inquiry also looked at the legal controls on pet cats and highlighted the issues with differences in local cat control policy.

Some council areas like Wodonga in Victoria, enforce a night-time curfew that is applied through local law provisions under the Local Government Act.

But the RSPCA noted in its submission that the Companion Animals Act in New South Wales prevented such action outside “wildlife protection areas and food preparation/consumption areas … or where the cat was threatening personal property”.

The inquiry also noted a comment from the Wodonga Council that highlighted a need for domestic cats to be treated the same as dogs.

“It is generally and widely accepted that dogs are confined at all times and that there are consequences when this does not occur,” the council said in its submission.