Australia’s feral cat problem has gotten so bad that the government is now planning a cull of massive proportions. According to a five-year plan recently unveiled by environment minister Greg Hunt, the Department of the Environment is planning to cull at least 2 million cats by 2020.
Feral cats are a major invasive species in Australia and are considered one of the top threats to native mammals and birds. The felines also prevent wildlife agencies from reintroducing threatened species back into the wild as they would simply be hunted and eaten as soon as they were released. It is estimated that feral cats kill over 75 million native animals every day.
“We are drawing a line in the sand today which says ‘on our watch, in our time, no more species extinction,’” Hunt told The Guardian. “It’s tough, it’s a challenge, we can do much and we can do better.”
Cats were first imported into Australia around the turn of the nineteenth century by European settlers.They remain a popular pet, with roughly one in four households having at least one feline. However, settlers far underestimated their ability to adapt and survive in the wild, and today feral cats far outnumber their domestic counterparts. While the cull may seem large and ambitious, some experts point out that there are more than 20 million feral cats in Australia, making the cat hunt seem like little more than a drop in the bucket. Nonetheless, conservation groups agreed that if applied strategically, the cull could make a large difference for the over 120 native species that the cats threaten.
“It is very important to emphasize that we don’t hate cats,” Gregory Andrews, Australia’s first threatened species commissioner, told ABC Radio. “We just can’t tolerate the damage that they’re doing anymore to our wildlife.”
The felines will be destroyed through a $6.6 million campaign of trapping, hunting, and poisoning. In addition, the government plans on turning cat-free zones into wildlife sanctuaries for threatened species. New restrictions for domestic cat ownership are also planned.
Some have drawn connections between the upcoming cull and the so-called “Great Emu War of 1932,” another large-scale cull that is best remembered for actually deploying military personnel and equipment. In truth, the “war” consisted of only a few soldiers armed with machine guns and frightened groups of emus. Shooting the birds was problematic and expensive, so the government eventually instituted a much more successful bounty system instead.