Stronger state laws ‘would help councils reduce cat impacts’

Local governments would benefit from stronger state/territory legislation in their battle to contain feral and free-roaming cats, a new report says.

Cats in Australia kill an estimated 1.7 billion native mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs every year, and local governments spend $76 million annually on trying to reduce their impacts on wildlife populations.

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub report recommends mandating responsible pet cat management at state/territory levels through strong, harmonised legislation.

It says the legislative framework should include:

  • Mandatory registration and identification of pet cats;
  • Mandatory desexing of pet cats, ideally by 4-5 months of age, with limited exceptions for licenced breeders.
  • Mandatory limits on the number of cats per household.
  • Mandatory requirement to keep cats contained to the owner’s property, or under equivalent control to bring expectations about cat management in line with those for dogs; and
  • Provisions to enable local governments to designate some residential areas as mandatory cat prohibition zones.

The report’s authors say that legislative reform and implementation should be accompanied by community awareness and education programs as well as incentive programs to encourage responsible pet cat ownership.

To help improve the management of feral/stray cats, the report recommends:

  • Education and clear messaging about not feeding stray cats; and that Trap-Neuter-Release is not effective or humane;
  • Trap-Neuter-Release should be banned nationally;
  • Reduce the feral cat carrying capacity around towns and cities by excluding cats (with fencing) from rubbish dumps and intensive farms.

The report is based on a 2019 national survey about how local governments manage cats. Two hundred and 40 councils responded.

The authors acknowledge that a growing number of local governments are implementing cat containment measures, a fact which may not have been captured in this report.

Although the Threatened Species Recovery Hub wound up in December 2021, resources on cat impacts and management (including a factsheet on responsible cat ownership) are still available on the hub website here.

In related news, the Federal Government released its response to the parliamentary inquiry on feral and domestic cats in February.

Among other things, the response agreed to a recommendation that the federal government leads efforts to improve the cohesion of legislative and regulatory approaches in relation to domestic, stray, and feral cats.