Response to Draft TAP
Key issues with the draft Threat Abatement Plan for predation of wildlife by feral cats
The information below is to address some of the issues with the draft plan Threat Abatement Plan for Feral Cats. As we continue to draft our response, we will add to this site. Please feel free to use any of the information to inform your response (due Dec 11th).
A draft summary of our key concerns and recommendations is here.
The draft plan reflects lack of consultation with expert scientists in contemporary urban cat management. The proposed actions in the plan regarding cat curfews, caps on cat ownership and restricting ownership of cats in local government areas demonstrates a lack of understanding of the cause of the free-roaming cat problem in our cities and towns based on current Australian research. Therefore, the proposed solutions are highly flawed, will be costly to enforce and will be ineffective at protecting wildlife populations of concern.
For example, approximately 95% of free-roaming cats in our cities and towns that are being impounded have no identification and no owner claims them. Cat curfews increase complaints, increase costs to councils, increase the number of cats impounded, increase exposure to adverse mental health effects (including PTSD) of staff involved in killing healthy cats and kittens, and result in no decrease in the number of free-roaming cats. This is because cat reproduction greatly exceeds the numbers of cats trapped and killed in our cities and towns.
Mandated desexing has been proven ineffective because it is based on the flawed assumption that it is lack of motivation why cats are not desexed. In fact, family income is the strongest predictor of whether a cat in the household is desexed. Both mandated desexing and cat curfews are barriers to solving the problem of free -roaming cats, that is, getting semi-owners to adopt the cat/s they are feeding, and they also criminalise cat ownership for low income families.
Instead, Australian research shows that Community Cat Programs based on free desexing of cats in areas with high numbers of free-roaming cats are very effective in reducing complaints, reducing free-roaming cats being impounded, reducing the number of healthy cats being killed and reducing council costs. In these programs most people feeding 1 to 2 stray cats will take ownership of them if the cat is desexed, microchipped and registered for free.
Cat classifications – domestic and feral cats
This inquiry has started off on the wrong foot by classing stray cats as feral cats. These populations are very different and the solutions are very different. Most stray cats are fed by compassionate well-meaning people. In fact, about 3% of Australian adults feed an average of 1.5 cats that are not their cat and have no known owner (Rand 2019). Most are not desexed. However, their bond with the cat is not different from the bond that pet owners have with pet cats (Neal 2023) and many of these cat caregivers (semi-owners) say the cat helps them through tough times. Classing semi-owned and unowned domestic cats as feral cats is inconsistent with RSPCA’s 2018 Best Practice Domestic Cat Management report.
In 2015, environment ministers made a commitment to the national declaration of feral cats as a pest, and most jurisdictions accordingly now recognise feral cats as a pest. Feral pest species are to be destroyed (not rescued and rehomed). Throughout the draft TAP, wherever the feral cat term is used, the same responses and actions would then appear to apply to stray cats. As cat definitions are non-existent or loose in each state/territory legislation, it may also be implied that from the date the TAP is approved by the Minister, the TAP cat definitions will flow down to all legislation in states/territories and all local governments.
Wildlife and owned and stray cats
The estimates of wildlife predation by pet and stray cats are also very flawed. For example, it is frequently quoted that pet cats predate 61 million birds each year. This was based on extrapolation of surveys of cat owners 20 to 30 years ago, and the majority of studies (4/6) were not published in peer-reviewed literature. Based on these surveys, the authors concluded the average pet cat predates 15.6 birds per year (the peer-reviewed studies estimated a median of 1.5 birds a year). The researchers then multiplied 15.6 birds by the total number of pet cats, regardless of whether they were confined inside or were elderly or never seen to predate. They then imply pet cats cause devastating effects on native wildlife in our towns and cities. However, the published population studies from urban areas of Australia have not been able to document a population effect on birds or mammals (reptiles and amphibians have not been studied).
Importantly, banning cats from some suburbs has been shown to have no beneficial effect on native mammals in adjacent bushland. Similarly, the presence of cats had no effect on the density and diversity of birds, but density of housing, distance from bushland and decreasing size of remnant bushland had a strong negative effect on bird populations.
Data to support Position statement on Domestic cats and Native Wildlife – this is an overview of the published research in urban areas relating to wildlife and domestic cats (pet and stray cats).
The PDF of the talk –Rand Myth cats Wildlife has a summary of the issues and solutions.
Grayson study showed no association between cats and passerine birds, but a negative association between birds and density of housing, distance from bushland and decreasing size of bushland.
Lilith showed that there was no benefit for mammals in adjacent bushland of banning cats or requiring a bell plus night containment. In fact, antechinus (very susceptible to cat predation) were mostly found in the suburb which had no cat-related by-laws. However, the vegetation was a bit denser there, and the authors concluded it was likely that habit loss and not cats that was influencing distribution of antechinus across the 3 suburbs.
Rand – Attitudes to dog and cat containment – published last year– it has a good discussion of the issues and lots of references in the introduction and discussion.
APWF Mandated Cat containment – note we strongly support containment on owner’s property where possible, but do not support making it mandatory, because it criminalises cat ownership for low income people and particularly those in rental properties, and is a barrier to semi-owners taking ownership of stray cats. Across Australia, 20% of households (average of 2.4 people) live on less than $800 per week and the proportion of low-income households is higher in suburbs that have the highest number of free-roaming cats. Containment systems cost $700 to more than $1000 and do not guarantee that a “door-dasher” cat will not escape through a door or window.
Mandated desexing does not work – the three states with the highest per capital cat intake into shelters and pounds have mandated desexing (Chua 2923) and another study of 191,000 cats entering RSPCA shelters around Australia (Alberthson 2016) also documented no benefit of mandated desexing. This is because it fails to recognise that it is not lack of motivation or lack of knowledge, but cost that is the barrier. The strongest predictor whether a cat in a household is desexed is family income (Chu 2009). Desexing and microchipping a female cat can cost between $300 to $500 depending on whether it is pregnant or lactating (common in spring and summer), and which veterinary clinic is providing the service. Mandated desexing is a huge barrier to semi-cat owners (people feeding more or more stray cats) taking ownership of these cats, which is a key solution to the problem.
Semi-owned cats (stray cats):
Most free-roaming cats in urban areas are intentionally fed by humans. Semi-owners represent approximately 3% of the adult population and they regularly feed a cat they believe to be unowned. They demonstrate strong bonds with the cats, even those feeding multiple cats (Crawford 2023, Scotney 2023, Neal 2023, Zito 2015). Semi-owners feeding 1 to 2 cats represent a huge pool of adopters for these cats, that are often poorly socialised and would otherwise be at high risk of euthanasia. By providing free sterilization, microchipping and registration for these cats, most semi-owners can be converted to owners.
Semi-owned cats are not feral cats, despite behaviours which make them challenging to adopt without a long period of socialisation. Admitting them to a shelter or municipal pound is often a death sentence. Most are healthy or treatable, and for shelter staff having few options other than euthanasia for these cats is traumatising. Cat carergivers (semi-owners) have strong bonds with the cats they are caring for, even though they may not be able to touch them. They feed them once or twice daily and talk to the cats daily. Cat semi-ownership is more common in low socioeconomic areas where the cost of sterilization for owned and semi-owned cats is often unaffordable. Cat semi-owners have very similar characteristics to cat owners in the same area, and cat semi-owners often also own one or more cats. Helping cat semi-owners sterilize and adopt the cats they are caring for is a holistic, One Welfare approach which will improve the wellbeing of people, animals and the environment.
Crawford, C.; Rand, J.; Rohlf, V.; Scotney, R.; Bennett, P. Solutions-Based Approach to Urban Cat Management—Case Studies of a One Welfare Approach to Urban Cat Management.
Neal, S.M.; Wolf, P.J. A Cat Is a Cat: Attachment to Community Cats Transcends Ownership Status.
Scotney, R.; Rand, J.; Rohlf, V.; Hayward, A.; Bennett, P. The Impact of Lethal, Enforcement-Centred Cat Management on Human Wellbeing: Exploring Lived Experiences of Cat Carers Affected by Cat Culling at the Port of Newcastle.
Ma GC, McLeod LJ, Zito SJ. Characteristics of cat semi-owners.
Felixer poison trap
The Felixer poison trap in the Ytube video below that the government is promoting uses 1080, which has been banned in most countries because it is an inhumane method to kill animals. The statement made in the video that cats “die quite peacefully” is not consistent with the effects of 1080 poisoning. Of concern, they show an obviously stray (or owned) cat in the video climbing between fence palings, implying that these would also be a target.
The ultimate toxicity of the active ingredient of 1080, fluoroacetate, arises from its effects on the energy-producing tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) in the mitochondria (mitochondria are the ‘powerhouse’ of cells). Consequently, affected animals are not able to meet their energy needs. Compound 1080 has no specific antidote.