Cat – a tonic?

For the last few months the Conservation Council has been running an awareness program on cat containment; encouraging cat owners to keep their cats from roaming 24 hours a day for the benefit of native wildlife and for pet cats. We have had extensive media coverage of the issue and have been running a strong social media campaign highlighting the threat of roaming domestic cats on threatened species in the ACT.

Reducing the impacts of roaming domestic cats is only one component of our work to protect our local biodiversity in the ACT. We work with the ACT Government to reduce the impacts of urban development on important grassland and woodland ecosystems and were successful in protecting an extra 758 hectares of land in North Gungahlin with the development of new suburbs in that region. We have also worked to reduce the impact of urban expansion in Molonglo including through taking action against the Government through the ACT Civil and Administration Tribunal (ACAT). We also work on other issues such as climate change, energy efficiency and waste.

The impacts of roaming domestic cats are not insignificant. One study from the US in 2013 has found that free-ranging cats are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for birds and mammals. Estimates from local studies indicate that roaming pet cats may be killing between 380,000 – 630,000 animals annually in the ACT. More importantly however, is recognising that the cumulative impacts of the different threatening processes on our native wildlife means that domestic cat predation can be the final straw that leads to local extinctions. The effect of domestic cats moving beyond suburban edges into remnant habitat is akin to the effects wrought by a predator newly introduced to an island environment. The cat is mobile, while many of the native fauna species in remnant habitats are relatively immobile and exist in patchily distributed and isolated fragments.

We are not campaigning on cat containment simply because it is visible or because it garners public interest. We are passionate about reducing impacts on native species, for the conservation and protection of biodiversity. Better management of domestic cats is an achievable and straightforward goal that will remove one threat to the survival of native birds, reptiles and mammals.

The variety of life on earth – its biodiversity – has taken millions of years to develop. Its complexity is both strength and fragility. If something is disturbed or removed will there be a mere shimmer across the surface or will ripples build to a tsunami of losses in unexpected places? The best we know is that there are many threats to biodiversity and we have to take care, limit our losses, and take steps where we can do something to help.