Australia is Figuring Out It’s Time to Stop Killing Cats and Foxes

Australia is one of the most ecologically astounding, yet fragile, places on Earth. Isolated for hundreds of thousands of years, the continent has had time to evolve some of the wildest and most bizarre species you can think of: this is the home of the platypus, after all, and the kangaroo. The continent spent much of its life undisturbed except by Indigenous Australians, who lived a very low-impact lifestyle in harmony with their surroundings.

Until Europeans arrived, bringing with them a host of invasive plant and animal species. Those species spread quickly across the environment, and while they might have felt like the comfort of home to colonists, they were incredibly destructive for native flora and fauna.

Today, the Australian government and conservation organizations are struggling to undo the damage and preserve species that are living close to the brink, and some of the means they’re using are extremely aggressive.

Foxes and cats are two animals who have long been fingered as big players in the destruction of small animals like bandicoots. The argument goes that these introduced animals have thrived in the Australian environment without natural predators, with numbers booming due to lack of controls. Consequently, they’re hunting out any small game they can find and devastating Australia’s native animal populations, a claim supported by camera trap footage and surveys.

Acting on that information, the government has used a number of aggressive eradication campaigns. Tens of thousands of cats and foxes have been rounded up and slaughtered in the name of conserving native species, with conservationists in Australia expressing deep loathing for the invaders. Yet, the larger problem of dwindling native species continues, and that’s because the situation here is, as always, more complicated than it might appear on the surface.

For one thing, as experts dealing with invasive species overruns in other regions can testify, roundups and slaughters aren’t enough. It’s necessary to put real checks on the numbers of animals that are becoming a problem, and that means, yes, birth control.

Trap, neuter, and release programs are one option, allowing animals to live out their natural lives in the environment without breeding. Another is the introduction of chemical birth control, as well as measures to discourage invaders from the area.

More to the point, in Australia, these hated invaders are actually playing a vital ecological role. Conservationists had long accepted that cats and foxes were bad news, but no one had actually conducted a study to take a look at the real numbers and see who, or what, was killing the most native species. What they found is that the black rat is a serious contender, and guess what?

Foxes and cats both prey on the black rat. In fact, they’re keeping the rat population in check, which is helping to actively conserve native Australian species that are vulnerable to the rats when they’re on the prowl. When researchers compared islands with and without introduced predators, they didn’t notice a big difference in extinction rates with cats, foxes and dingoes around, but black rats could decimate native populations.

The data don’t mean that it’s time to start throwing cats at areas that don’t have them yet, but they do suggest this particular situation needs a closer evaluation…and that maybe it’s time to stop ruthlessly slaughtering Australia’s poor fox and cat populations.

Photo: Kevin Dooley.

139 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven9 months ago

thanks for the article.

Sheri D.
Sheri D.2 years ago

sad

Tom Edgar
Tom Edgar2 years ago

Sba G

So I presume you would sooner see cats killing birds or consuming fish killed for their consumption. More fish killed for cats world wide than even for human consumption. Yes Kittens are cute. but they also spread disease , I have, in the distant past, been infected by one.
I'll presume you are no Jain and will without compunction swap a mosquito sooner than have it bite you. Hypocrisy is measured in the distance you are prepared to go in letting all creatures live, Do you allow rats and mice free rein of your home. There was a pair of eccentric sisters on an Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset who allowed cats,rats mice and any creature free rein of their domain. I believe they were given alternative accommodation when the Department of Defence took control of the island during W W 2 and restored the island's previous beauty by eliminating the feral life there In India there is one area where the Priests actually lay food and milk for p'agues of rats. India still has rat induced Bubonic Plague. Own up does your love for animals only go to cats and lovely looking foxes or extends to Rats? If I could find a way of eradicating the Cane Toad I would be the most honoured man in Australia, I'll presume you would object to that too. I am in my very late eighties and I can assure you that I have seen the result of killings far worse that Foxes and Cats. It is not pleasant but I assume you think our that our efforts in W W 2 were wrong, and that in your own country,

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia2 years ago

I thought people on Care2 really cared. Good Grief! Indiscriminate killing of cats!!! Good Night.

Tim Knight
Tim Knight2 years ago

Well said Tom and Suba G, just read your ridiculous comments back to yourself and you'll see the hipocrisy and irrelevance within them. Yes it is correct that humans brought the feral animals to our shores and it is humans who must get rid of them. Not doing anything is not an answer. People such as yourself, Mark D and the foolish author of this article are everything that is wrong with the world. You sit in your ivory towers and typical of Americans, you lambast all who are willing to do something about the issues confronting wildlife and all because of your precious pets. Collectively you have not the slightest inkling of the problems our native animals here in Australia face and seem blissfully unaware of the problems in your own country. Personally I believe that those who own pets for no other reason than companionship are the most arrogant and selfish people on this planet. You are happy to consume the worlds resources to feed your ridiculous need to have a little furry friend and are happy to see those creatures populate the environment and kill everything in their path. Centuries ago, domestic cats were bred as working animals, to control mice in granaries, now they are merely an extension of your own p

Tom Edgar
Tom Edgar2 years ago

When you don't know what you are talking about it is wiser to close the cakehole.My birds are free rangers and entitled to their freedom. Foxes,and for that matter cats are not indigenous to Australia having both been brought here by stupid English settlers. The fox particularly just for their sport of hunting it...,. The cat in particular has decimated Australian wildlife, virtually eliminated the "Bilby" This defenceless animal has only survived because of one man fencing in one area, at great expense, and shooting every cat inside the area. My previous flock loss was after one fox had torn a hole through the six foot high netting fence to gain access to the protected area. These feral animals I am, by law, demanded to shoot and control. I do not like using leg traps nor will use poisons, both are indiscriminate, My gun or even my walking stick are more humane. When I arrived on this property over thirty years ago I was killing cats nearly every night of the week this slowly diminished to the point of zero. The bird life then was the odd Crow, or Currawong, now I have thousands of finches of every variety, Firetails, Yellow and Red Robins, Superb Blue Wrens, and Pardalottes, along with Rosellas and several species of Parrots. Cats or Birds you chose yours and I'll stay with mine.

Tom Edgar
Tom Edgar2 years ago

I was returned to this forum by the award of a green star. Coincidentallyfter an episode last night. I was a little tardy locking up my poultry and arrived to see a dog Fox in the hen house, one head injured, and another trying to evade the predator. I weighed in with my walking stick , one dead fox. I found one hen cowering in the yard and of the other eight not a one. Next morning The Rooster was waiting at the gate and the other hens with him, so on this occasion it seems I arrived at the same time as brer fox, not like last time when I shot the mongrel, but only after he had killed over half my flock.Tonight I'll ride shotgun over the others.

Tom Edgar
Tom Edgar2 years ago

I was returned to this forum by the award of a green star. Coincidentallyfter an episode last night. I was a little tardy locking up my poultry and arrived to see a dog Fox in the hen house, one head injured, and another trying to evade the predator. I weighed in with my walking stick , one dead fox. I found one hen cowering in the yard and of the other eight not a one. Next morning The Rooster was waiting at the gate and the other hens with him, so on this occasion it seems I arrived at the same time as brer fox, not like last time when I shot the mongrel, but only after he had killed over half my flock.Tonight I'll ride shotgun over the others.

Tim Knight
Tim Knight2 years ago

WRONG! So totally and almost criminally wrong! This is a totally irresponsible way to depict the actual conclusions made by those who conducted the survey. Suggesting that " these hated invaders are actually playing a vital ecological role" is a total fabrication and misleading distortion of the facts.

Feral cats and foxes in Australia must be eradicated...entirely. There must also be a concerted effort by governments to make de-sexing of all cats unless kept by licenced breeders, a mandatory requirement for anyone choosing to keep cats as pets. Taking reports such as the one made by those who conducted the survey out of context and adding your own twist is misleading and dangerous.

What was actually concluded was that the results of the survey suggest that managers may need to simultaneously eliminate more than one predator to save rare animals from extinction, whereas eradication efforts frequently focus on only one species. When it comes to planning such eradication campaigns on limited budgets and that analyses like Hanna's can assist in prioritization. Care2, I call on you to correct the erroneous information in this post and to take a less emotive stand when reporting news of this nature. Not all cute and furry creatures have a right to exist. It may not be their fault they were brought to Australia but they, along with the Cane toad and the rabbit as well as numerous other feral creatures MUST be eradicated. Australia's flora and fauna are among some of the mo

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Also just like the criminal agribusiness and USDA, FWS, etc of the US and Canada is doing, Australia spreads a poisonous "1080" all across its landscape, which kills all wildlife in its in its path . A miniscule drop of that toxic poison would kill you (or any dogs and children that came across it) in seconds. Australia's agribusiness like in the US and Canada are just criminal mafia operations