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.

Image from Mark Marathon on the Wikimedia Commons

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  • TNR Researcher

    It will never work. It will fail the same way TNR fails. You must reduce the total number of reproductive animals in any one region by 80%-90% in less than 1 breeding cycle. In the case of these man-made invasive-species vermin cats that’s 3-4 months. (By “region”, I mean any area that is larger than a cat can migrate to to find another cat with which it can breed within 1-2 breeding cycles.)

    More new cats will have been born in the first year than they want to cull in 5 years. They’re moving backward in a stream that’s flowing and accelerating faster than they want to paddle upstream.

    If they want to solve anything they need to destroy about 19 million of them in the first year. And 80-90% of all remaining cats in every following year.

    I shot and destroyed every last one of hundreds of these vermin in my area over 5 years ago and haven’t seen even one since. This was accomplished by destroying them all before any more could breed even one time.

  • Bruce

    In Nova Scotia , Canada. All cats that are to be pets must be neutered or spayed. That will prepare the future of the cat population. The remaining ferrel cats can be trapped and dealt with in a humane way or even spayed or neutered if the person doesn’t want to destroy the cat, but the only way to stop all this is to have a spay and neutering program in place. It’s the future that will be screwed if this isn’t done. Just saying

  • MN Steward

    This must be a problem all over the world. Feral cats are responsible for killing hundreds of millions of animals every year. They raid ground nests so that means turkeys, pheasant, ducks, etc. My neighbors cat likes to kill juvenile rabbits and leave em at the door step. In the U.S. it’s only recommended to keep your cat indoors. I see people’s cats outside all the time. It’s illegal to dispatch the cats I see. It’s not illegal to trap them and turn them over to authorities. But what good does that do when folks just go and adopt and then let them out to hunt. I don’t see any purpose for them. Even farmers should get rid of ALL their barn cats, they are just filling the woods with feral cats. They don’t do very well at mousing anyway. There is always mice and rats even with the cats. Also spayed/neutered cats still kill stuff. There are FAR more laws against dogs being a nuisance, but cats do FAR more damage. It’s time to get real about cats. There are very few “cool” ones. But ALL are a detriment to wildlife.

  • Sophie Catris

    It’s always people that do the damage (the European settlers, in this case) and animals -and the planet in general- that eventually have to pay for it. We are a truly useless, egotistical species. Bottom line.

  • The best option is neutered or spayed not killing them,the real problem is not the cats are the irresponsable owners who let them in the streets by they own.

  • Shirley Swaine

    No, cats are NOT ‘a major invasive species’, they did not build boats and sail to Australia. The invasive species is Man, cats are an introduced species in Australia, introduced by Man but as ever, it is the animals that have to suffer for Man’s arrogance and interference.