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

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.

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Photo: Kevin Dooley.

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137 comments

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4:54PM PST on Feb 27, 2014

sad

6:49AM PST on Jan 19, 2014

Tom E.
My objection is to scapegoating those weaker than humans for problems created specifically by humans. The classic "blame the victim" syndrome. It's happening at a massive scale in the US with Pitbulls, who are now the most abused breed of dogs.

I don't have a problem with killing per se, which is a necessity in life.

I object to how the powerful constantly trample on the weak, then dare to give lame excuses such as "it's for their own good". At least have the guts to own up that people are killing cats & foxes for selfish reasons.

6:38AM PST on Jan 19, 2014

If it weren't for human idiots who abuse/abandon their animals, I would never have to step in to take in these animals. I would have much more freedom. So no, I am not doing this for any personal gain.

Hard as it is for you to grasp, some people care about animals just for the animals sake, without expecting anything in return.

There IS a solution to all of the world's problems. People should stop breeding so much, and there will be plenty of resources for all.

6:35AM PST on Jan 19, 2014

Cut off..
Whenever some animal species runs wild due to people's fault, they use "wildlife" as an excuse to massacre. Then they find a different excuse to massacre wildlife.

" Personally I believe that those who own pets for no other reason than companionship are the most arrogant and selfish people on this planet."

So you believe the only reason anyone has a companion animal is to enjoy their company (i.e. a selfish reason with no thought for the animal). In other words, you cannot imagine a situation where a person would help an animal just for the sake of the animal. Shows what precious little compassion you have, and yet you claim to care about wildlife? You just proved my point.

Let me enlighten you. Dogs and cats face horrible abuse and starvation in the streets (and the wild in Australia) just because some idiots failed to spay/neuter their ancestors and let them run wild & overpopulate. Now the ANIMALS pay the price. Unlike you who punish the animals, there are some people who actually help these animals who are suffering through no fault of their own.

" 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."

Again stop with the completely false assumptions. I have no "need" for furry friends, who are more trouble than they are worth. If I didn't help them what would happen? They will be tortured/ki

6:32AM PST on Jan 19, 2014

Tim K,
Where do you get off making all these unwarranted assumptions? Anyone who points out the error in your ways MUST be an ignorant fool living in an ivory tower? No. I am well aware of the problems in the world as well as here at home. I do what I can to help the weak & downtrodden, unlike you who blame & punish them for YOUR problems.

Let's see, the first part of your post is nothing but a rant full of insults & adjectives, with no substance. The second part is a bunch of assumptions about me, which I will now correct.

"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."

Why do you care about wildlife at all? Just so you can use & abuse them yourself, & how dare those predators kill & eat YOUR toys (never mind that it was you who introduced the predators in the first place)?. There are plenty of people here who use the same excuse to massacre wolves coyotes & all kinds of predators.

"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."

And just how you know this? I just explained the same things happen here and all over the world. Users like you are not new, they are the majority of humankind. Whenever some animal species runs wild due to people's fault, they use "wildlife" as a

2:13AM PST on Jan 19, 2014

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,

11:26PM PST on Jan 18, 2014

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

11:08PM PST on Jan 18, 2014

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

6:57PM PST on Jan 18, 2014

All you do is make scapegoats out of animals to cover up your problems.

It is people who brought in & bred non-indigenous animals in the first place. It is people who let their populations run wild. It is people who fail to protect their livestock by building flimsy fences penetrable to foxes (or no fences at all).

Humans have all the power. They breed like rabbits; act like irresponsible brats & destroy everything around them; then dare to blame some innocent animal for their own irresponsibility. How typical.

Cats or birds? No you choose the convenience of humans every time, at the expense of cats AND birds. Birds are just an excuse to kill cats. Once you eradicate cats you will find a different excuse to kill birds.

6:02PM PST on Jan 18, 2014

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.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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