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Blog

Feral cats and cat management: what you need to know.

In an effort to combat Australia’s ever-shrinking biodiversity, the Federal Government recently released a revised Feral Cat Threat Abatement Plan (TAP). This isn’t a new tactic; feral cats have been an ongoing target in the efforts to preserve native wildlife.
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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Monday, 13 May 2024

In an effort to combat Australia’s ever-shrinking biodiversity, the Federal Government recently released a revised Feral Cat Threat Abatement Plan (TAP). This isn’t a new tactic; feral cats have been an ongoing target in the efforts to preserve native wildlife.

But the new Feral Cat Threat Abatement Plan (TAP) is very different to the previous TAP. It contains a number of concerning elements including a very broad definition of ‘feral’, and measures like ‘bounties’ for cats in certain localities. And, some of the framing and language used around this issue has the effect of demonising cats, which could lead to harmful and widespread welfare impacts.

So why is this a problem – and why does language matter?

Broad and harmful definitions.

By casting the net too widely, the new TAP classes unowned and semi-owned domestic cats – cats who many people live alongside and support – as feral. But what do all of these definitions mean?

By definition, a feral cat is a cat who is unowned, unsocialised, has no relationship with or dependence on humans and lives and reproduces in the wild.

Populations of feral cats can be found across Australia in a diverse range of habitats with estimates ranging from 1.4 million to 5.6 million depending on seasonal changes. Feral cats are involved in the loss of native mammal, reptile, and bird species.

Under the revised TAP, feral cats can be trapped and killed by shooting, or baiting with PAPP or 1080.

But concerningly, this new Feral Cat TAP contains a much broader definition of ‘feral’ than the previous version, and for the first time includes unowned and semi-owned domestic cats (cats who have some relationship with or dependence on humans directly or indirectly, also known as strays), under the same categorisation, in a crude and blanket attempt at cat management.

This is despite unowned and semi-owned domestic cats requiring completely different methods of management. They are semi-dependant on humans with many being fed, sheltered, and cared for by one or more individuals.

The circumstances of unowned and semi-owned cats can also vary; some may have been owned and loved previously, becoming lost or abandoned due to factors like the rising cost of living, lifestyle changes, or death of their caregiver. Importantly – unlike feral cats – unowned and semi-owned domestic cats can often be rehomed, and in some jurisdictions where feral cats are declared as pests, any trapped cat defined as feral must by law be killed. 

Labelling these domestic cats as feral can alter the animal’s protection under welfare legislation. With one stroke of a pen, an animal once cared for and protected by law becomes an invasive ‘pest’ with their killing being tolerated and even encouraged.

Under this new classification anyone with an aversion to cats roaming their neighbourhood could now essentially argue it’s their right to trap and kill them, almost justifying it as a favour to the community. This also puts any owned cat not completely contained (or contained cats who have escaped) at risk of mistaken identity  - especially worrying for the designated areas where bounties are offered for the killing of feral cats.

Demonising a species is not the solution to protecting native wildlife.

When announcing the new Feral Cat Threat Abatement Plan, the Federal Government said that they were “declaring war on feral cats” and “setting up [their] battle plan to win that war.” The media release further labelled these cats “walking, stalking, ruthless killers.”

We’re concerned that such provocative and violent language aimed at an animal, even one catagorised as an invasive species, is unnecessarily divisive and fearmongering.

It encourages an ‘us and them’ mentality that removes compassion and rational thinking regarding the treatment of that animal and risks significant negative consequences for all cats – including, as we’ve noted above, domestic cats.

Management of domestic cats should be separate to the management of feral cats. The feral cat TAP is no place to address these important issues relating to domestic cat management. After all, domestic cats aren’t feral.

Where does the RSPCA stand?

The RSPCA’s most serious concern with the current version of the Feral Cat TAP is the significant risk of negative animal welfare impacts for domestic cats.

Incorporating unowned and semi-owned domestic cats into the same category as feral cats, when vastly different management strategies are needed, will at best complicate the issue and at worst place an unfair and dangerous target on any free-roaming domestic cat in the community.

Furthermore, the TAP does not adequately address the impacts of cats in urban areas, with the suggested 24/7 containment alternative for domestic cats an unachievable solution for unowned or semi-owned cats who then risk further abandonment and mistreatment. Not to mention 24/7 containment presents a further barrier to those who care for these cats to take ‘ownership’ and implement other forms of care such as desexing.

The RSPCA believes unowned and semi-owned domestic cats must be removed from the Feral Cat TAP completely, and the National Domestic Cat Management Working Group be appropriately supported and put in charge of establishing a separate domestic cat management plan.

Conserving Australia’s native wildlife requires an informed, rational, and humane approach, considerate of all species involved, including introduced species. ‘Wars’ have no place in animal management.

 

 

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