If your cat roams freely, it could kill local wildlife. Here is what you can do to prevent this

No cat owner seeks to disturb the local wildlife.

But when domestic cats – and in Australia there are around 3.7 million of them – roam free, they can unfortunately wreak havoc in the natural environment.

This is an area of ​​research that Sarah Legge, wildlife expert and deputy director of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, has focused.

While domestic cats hunt less frequently than feral cats because they are fed by humans, they still have a huge impact on native wildlife around cities, says Professor Legge.

High-density living means that the “predation toll” of domestic cats is higher than that of feral cats, she told ABC RN’s Life Matters.

“It’s actually 30 times higher… Our pet cats kill 30 times more things per square kilometer than wild cats in the bush.”

It may surprise some cat owners, but it’s hard to judge what your cat has been up to while out of sight.

“About 80% of cats that roam hunt. And when they hunt, they only bring back about 15% of what they kill on average,” says Professor Legge.

“So for every bird, say, that a cat puts on your doormat, you have to imagine that on average there are five or six more birds lying somewhere under the bushes in your backyard or in your backyard. neighbor.”

So what can we do?

Curfews for cats?

At Wodonga City Council in Victoria, where Mark Verbaken is responsible for environmental and community protection, a cat curfew has been in place for almost 20 years.

Dude cat on a harness and leash
Walking a cat on a leash or in a harness is an alternative to your cat’s freedom.(

ABC Life: Shannon Greer

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There, cats are not allowed to roam between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. (although being confined outside to a property is allowed) and a move to a 24-hour curfew is to be expected. .

Mr Verbaken says the current curfew was put in place after “numerous complaints about cats spraying on neighbors’ properties, jumping on parked cars [and] annoy neighboring dogs in the middle of the night “.

It worked well and there was minimal setback against the rules.

“We actually surveyed our community two years ago, and [over] 79% of people said they were very satisfied with the 12 hour curfew, ”said Mr Verbaken.

A gray and white kitten with blue eyes looks up while holding a pink toy mouse.  Nearby are other pink cat toys.
Cat toys can help keep an active cat occupied indoors.(

Unsplash: Kim Davies

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Engage the community

Before instituting the curfew, the council put a lot of effort into rallying the community and educating them about responsible pet ownership and the issues associated with stray domestic cats.

This involved educating people about the new legal requirements, but also how to choose the right pet, take the time to care for it, prevent it from escaping and reduce any impact. on the environment.

Professor Legge believes that the level of community consultation of the Wodonga Council has been the key to its success.

“It’s a conversation that [Wodonga] with their community for many years on how we can better manage cats, and people have come with them because of it. “

“You have to make changes like this sensitively,” she says.

Wodonga’s council has taken other steps to help her cat problem as well.

There is a trapping program that allows neighbors to capture a cat “after repeated visits”. It is then impounded and sent home, after additional training from the owner.

There is also a smoothly drafted advisory, which allows residents to anonymously alert their neighbors to any issues with their cat’s behavior. This has helped “enable compliance,” said Mr Verbaken.

12-hour versus 24-hour curfew

While Professor Legge praises the Wodonga Council’s approach, she says a 24-hour curfew is best.

“If the main goal is to reduce the nuisance value, then nighttime curfews contribute greatly,” she says.

“But if one of your goals is to reduce the impact on wildlife, then you really need to move to 24-hour containment.

“If you babysit cats at night, but let them out during the day, all you really do is shift the burden of predation from the animals that cats kill at night, which are mostly mammals, to animals that cats kill during the day, that is, birds and reptiles, ”she says.

Cats also benefit from the 24-hour curfew. Professor Legge says those who are allowed to roam freely outside are more likely to be exposed to stress and injury, to contract illnesses and, as a result, to have a much shorter lifespan.

Mr. Verbaken believes that owners who have outdoor pet enclosures that allow a cat to spend safe time outdoors are “the way of the future”.

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Professor Legge says cats don’t have an innate need to be outside. She recommends that cats needing interaction be kept indoors in pairs.

Sydney cat owner Barbara says that when she moved into a terraced house with her young cat, she asked someone to close the patio to give her cat the opportunity to take the air, while remaining safe and not being able to hurt anything else.

“She loves it and [has] lots of fun, ”she said.

But Barbara also takes her cat for a walk outside. She trained her cat with a harness, indoors at first, and now says she loves it. “She’s driving me now. She knows we’re heading to the park. She thinks it’s fabulous.

“So what I say [is] I totally agree with the curfew; I think it is very important that wildlife is protected. But there are alternatives for the cat. “

Linda from Melbourne has a cat who also loves the fresh air. She is mostly an indoor cat, but on a hot day, Linda lets her into the small yard to walk around and sleep under a tree.

But she “never learned to slip over the fence,” says Linda. “I made sure she didn’t. What if she does [learn], I myself am over the fence to retrieve it. “

For other cat owners who want their pet to enjoy the sun and fresh air, it may be a good idea to start looking for free roaming alternatives like the ones Linda and Barbara used.

Because even if your board doesn’t impose any restrictions now, it could soon be.

Professor Legge recently surveyed about half of Australia’s 500 LGAs and found that 14 had partial curfews, 16 had 24-hour curfews and 24 had no-cat zones, meaning that cats were not allowed in specific areas.

“So it’s more common than people think and it’s increasing in frequency,” she says.

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