Bloody cats

In the last few days we have found piles of feathers from two species of vulnerable native birds.

Feathers Jagun, Easter Sunday, Pitta1

Feathers Jagun, Easter Sunday, Noisy Pitta. The Pitta is a lovely ground bird and its cousin, the Red-bellied Pitta (I saw in Cape York) is one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen.

According to Sue Taylor, ‘In Australia, cats are known to feed on more than 347 native species: that’s 186 species of birds, 64 mammals, 86 reptiles, at least 10 amphibians and numerous invertebrates.’ She calculates that, ‘A cat eats 300 grams of meat each day. A male blue wren weighs 8.9 grams. A male brown antechinus weighs 35 grams. So, a feral cat surviving on blue wrens and brown antechinus would need to kill the equivalent of seven antechinus and six blue wrens each day.’ (Sue Taylor, ‘The Effect of Domestic Cats on Australian Wildlife’, Ockham’s Radio, ABC, Radio National, 7.11.1999. Unfortunately, no references available.) This is obviously a worst case scenario.

Frogmouth feathers, Jagun

Frogmouth feathers, Jagun

In one Sydney national park, it is estimated that 25 feral cats are resident with a further 680 domestic cats living within 100 metres of the park boundary. (These figures are from NSWNPWS and based on previous trapping of feral cats and surveys that indicate 37 percent of households keep at least on cat. http://www.npws.nsw.gov.au/help/catswild.htm

Conservative estimates suggest that Australia has over 5 million feral cats. So what do we do – nothing? Morality only involves choices, usually difficult ones, often due to conflicting priorities.

Cats don’t belong in Australia, but cat lovers should at least be responsible owners, and if they love animals, pay attention to and support native animals because so many species are doing it tough.

Responsible cat ownership (NSW NPWS guidelines):

  • Keep your cat at home, either inside the house or in an enclosed outside ‘cattery’ during the day and particularly at night.
  • Provide sufficient food and shelter for your cat.
  • Identify your cat with a collar, tag, or microchip.
  • Put three large bells on your cat’s collar as a warning to wildlife.
  • Desex your cat to prevent unwanted litters.
  • Never feed a stray cat unless you intend to care for it as a pet.
  • Build a cat-proof boundary fence to keep your cat in the yard.
  • Provide cat-free environments in your garden by building a cat-proof area for wildlife.
  • Explain to friends and neighbours how to look after their cats to protect native wildlife.