Another cat curfew in Australia.

The municipality of Knox in Victoria has introduced a 24-hour cat curfew on all domestic cats to come into effect on October 1, 2021. Cats must be confined to their owner’s property at all times and the new law was established for one primary reason; to protect native wildlife.

Owners face fines for failure to comply, and the rationale for the law also sites general nuisance and safety for cats. However, it is not difficult to read between the lines of the government document and determine the primary motivation for the move.

The council in Melbourne states that there are “…currently over 6,500 cats registered with Council.” Even if each cat kills only one native animal per day, that municipality will lose 6,500 native animals every day. In the space of a year…

The law should have been introduced long ago. It should be nationwide policy.

Cats are still the single most destructive introduced species in Australia. More destructive to wildlife than foxes, rabbits, horses, wild pigs, wild dogs, deer, camels, donkeys and even cane toads.

Cats are estimated to kill about 1.5 billion native animals per annum in Australia. This destruction is the work of domestic cats, stray cats and feral cats. All of these cats are derived from pet cats. Feline species have never been native to Australia.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1994 only 26% of domestic cats were confined both during the day and night. This means 74% of cats where roaming happily, hunting and destroying native wildlife. In the same year, 42,126 cats were dumped on the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Only 3% of the cats were reclaimed and 74% were put down.

Feral cats threaten at least 124 Australian species which are in danger of extinction, and cats are a major reason that Australia has the highest rate of native mammal extinction in the world – not per capita – outright.

Chantel Benbow is an ecologist, and some would say a hypocrite. She owns a cat and lets it roam free at night around the streets of inner Sydney. Her cat does wear a bib developed by Murdoch University, and utilised widely in the Eurobodalla Council region on the NSW far south coast. The bib claims to distract the cat from the prey, and to stop 81 per cent of cats from catching birds, 45 per cent of cats from catching mammals, and 33 per cent of cats from catching lizards and amphibians.

That said, Benbow still advises:

“If you want to have a pet cat, keep it indoors because they are hunters. They are beautiful, they are cute and fluffy but they will kill something.”

The municipality of Knox trialled the curfew in 2020 and more than 86% of residents are said to have supported the continuation of the program, including cat owners themselves.

Opponents or critics of the curfew might also argue that it is not necessary because they put a bell on their cat’s collar to alert wildlife. Their cats then roam guilt-free. Blue Mountains City Council, which administers a large area surrounded by national park, claims:

“Bells on collars don’t always work. Cats with bells can learn to stalk prey silently,” and

“…native animals don’t associate the sound of bells with danger.”

Knox is not the first community to introduce such a ban. Mount Barker near Adelaide implemented a similar law in 2019. The law proposed penalties for cats found roaming freely between 8pm and 7am, and a limit of two cats per property. The community lobbied for the law after becoming sick of domestic cats defecating on people’s properties, fighting in gardens and killing wildlife.

Similar laws aimed at protecting wildlife have also been trialled or implemented in Gawler, Adelaide Hills, Marion and Campbelltown in South Australia. The law in Gawler included a provision to ‘seize, detain and destroy’ any cat caught roaming within its boundaries if the animal isn’t claimed by its owner within three days.

Various forms of cat curfews are also being considered in locations such as Yarra Range Council in Victoria and Wollondilly Council in Sydney. Interestingly, a councillor from Wollondilly Council, Simon Landow, was quoted as saying that the plan had been met with great support, but that the rules had no teeth unless the state government enacted similar legislation.

Mount Barker, Knox and many of the regions mentioned above feature residential areas which adjoin an area of bushland or open space, where native wildlife can still be found. If that wildlife is to survive, a cat curfew must be implemented across the nation.

Image: Jae Park

Ban the importation of cats into Australia.

Prevention is better than cure and this adage should apply to the importation of cats into Australia. Cats must be prevented from entering Australia from other countries because they remain the single most destructive introduced species in the country. Continued importation will result in the destruction of more native wildlife.

This article relates to the importation of new cats – cats that have never been to Australia before, and not to cats from Australia returning from overseas with their owners.

Feral cats threaten at least 124 Australian species which are in danger of extinction, and cats are a major reason that Australia has the highest rate of native mammal extinction in the world – not per capita – outright. Attempts to reduce this destruction are ongoing and include feral cat eradication, stray cat control, de-sexing and domestic cat containment. These methods all carry their own complications, but banning the importation of cats into the country is surely the least complicated strategy.

It’s simple. Tell every Australian and every international visitor that it is not possible to import a cat into the country. No exceptions. If Australians insist on having a pet cat, they can source one from inside the country.

Cats can currently be imported into Australia from other countries under various conditions. Cats from locations such as New Zealand and Norfolk Island do not even need to serve a period of quarantine, provided they have been approved as healthy in the place of origin.

According to the Department of Agriculture, people can bring cats into Australia without even obtaining a permit, provided the cat is coming from a country such as New Zealand and the exporter signs a Statutory Declaration that:

  • identifies the cat by breed, sex, age and microchip number.
  • verifies that the cat has been continually resident in New Zealand since birth or direct importation from Australia, or for the 90 days immediately before the date of export if the animal has been imported into New Zealand from any other country.
  • verifies that the cat is not derived from a domestic/non-domestic hybrid.
  • verifies that if a female cat, the animal is not more than 40 days pregnant or suckling young at the time of export.

These conditions ensure that the animal does not bring diseases into the country, but ignores the fact that cats have the potential to cause enormous damage to Australian wildlife once they arrive – no matter how healthy they are. In fact, it could be argues that a healthy, active, agile cat is more able to hunt and kill wildlife.

Cats from other countries must spend a minimum of 10 days at an official post-entry quarantine facility and arrive with an official permit.

All of these measures carry associated costs, and bringing a cat into Australia is very expensive. If Australians are determined to spend money on animals, they can adopt a koala or donate to many of the organisations dedicated to the care and protection of Australia’s native wildlife. After so many native animals were lost in the 2019/2020 bushfires, now is a perfect time to contribute to the protection of Aussie animals.

Various strategies are currently employed to protect wildlife from cats.

Feral cat eradication

Feral cat eradication programs continue throughout the nation, with limited success. Feral cats occupy an estimated 99.8% of the Australian continent, can weigh up to 9 kilograms and have directly contributed to extinctions of more than 20 Australian mammals. The destruction continues because feline species are excellent hunters and are intelligent and thus hard to trap. They exist in many inaccessible areas and current eradication methods are not working well enough. It is thought there are more than 6 million feral cats roaming the country, and importing more cats into the country potentially adds to this number.

Stray cat control and elimination

Stray cats are no one’s responsibility. They roam urban and rural areas, killing native wildlife. They were all once domestic cats, or the litter of domestic cats.

Domestic cat containment

Most cat owners are responsible.

False.

Statistics disprove this theory. A small percentage of owners keep their cats inside or provide an enclosed cat run in which their cats can play while outside the house. Many allow their cats outside during the day, where they are still able to kill. Others argue their pets are allowed only as far as their own garden, but even in a private garden, a cat can and will kill native wildlife. Most pet cats are allowed to roam free and kill with impunity, and importing cats into the country creates more pet cats and more potential killers.

De-sexing

Many cat owners think de-sexing is enough. In many cases, de-sexing simply allows owners to absolve themselves of responsibility for the destruction their pets cause. Even a de-sexed cat will kill many native animals during its lifetime if it is allowed to roam freely.

Banning the importation of cats into Australia will not solve the cat problem. It will, however, limit the number of cats in the country overall and will support existing efforts to reduce the deadly impact of Australia’s most destructive introduced species.

Image: Jae Park