SSAA National was invited to attend the Threatened Species Commissioner’s (TSC) first-ever Feral Cat Community Roundtable meeting in early September. The SSAA has been engaging with the TSC, Gregory Andrews, for some time to identify ways in which our members can increase feral cat control activities to help the Federal Government reach its ambitious culling target by 2020.
This meeting was focused on listening to people and community groups who care about cats and to gauge their views on whether the feral cat targets set in the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy were valid. The meeting provided the opportunity for these parties to be heard. The TSC was also able to use this meeting to explain that the Threatened Species Strategy was not about demonising or hating cats; it was purely about saving our wildlife and that responsible domestic cat ownership will also play a big part in reducing the influx of new feral cats from cities to bush.
There were always going to be things that people at this meeting were bound to disagree on and this centred on the methods or options of control. The use of 1080 baiting was discussed at length due to perceived ‘cruel’ side effects by many, as well as why Trap Neuter Return (TNR) was not a viable option.
The important thing to remember was that no-one disagreed that the impact of feral cats needed addressing to help Australia stop its extinction crisis. There was agreement that society should care and show compassion for all animals and that included the rejection of animal cruelty and the demonisation of feral cats. The TSC tried to make it clear that the Threatened Species Strategy was not about hating feral cats and that it was simply a choice of loving our wildlife enough to make (sometimes) hard choices to save species from extinction. The RSPCA attended the meeting and supported the control of feral cats and other pest animals - as long as it is humane, justified and effective.
Many at the meeting were concerned with the humaneness of 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) but they were reassured by the TSC that he would be doing everything in his power to allow a more humane bait option known as PAPP (para-aminopropiophenone) to be used in feral cat control. This new bait is still waiting for approval from various state governments before it can become a replacement for 1080. PAPP is a toxin that causes an animal to become lethargic and sleepy before quickly turning unresponsive and then dying. It works by converting haemoglobin in red blood cells to methaemoglobin, which prevents oxygen being carried to the heart muscles and brain.
The topic of TNR was discussed at some length and it was demonstrated to be not feasible. The TSC indicated that the average cost to trap a single feral cat in remote areas was around $5000 and a further $1000 would need to be spent to de-sex it. It was also suggested that the feral cat trapping success rate was only five per cent, which meant that 20 traps would need to be set to catch one cat. When the feral cat is released, it will still continue to kill threatened species. The cost per cat, equivalent to half the yearly funding provided by the government for one primary school student, is simply too high and therefore not justified.
The Feral Cat Community Roundtable meeting did allow many of the public to have their say and listen to what alternatives were humane, justified and effective. Culling by skilled shooters is certainly one option that ticks all three principles and the SSAA will continue to work with the TSC to help where we can to make sure the target of 2 million feral cats culled by 2020 is met.