A recent study from researchers at Matthew Flinders University and the CSIRO reveals the enormous cost of invasive species to the Australian economy, and shows that cats are the worst perpetrators.

The study determined that invasive species cost Australia approximately A$24.5 billion per year. On average, that’s a whopping 1.26% of the nation’s entire GDP. Furthermore, analysing the data revealed that cats have the largest price tag of any plant, animal, or fungi species, costing the nation a shocking A$18.7 billion since 1960. The ACT is not immune to this phenomenon, indeed cats are the most costly invasive species in the region.  The report highlights the importance of reforms to laws on feral species – both environmentally and economically, begging the question, can these changes come any faster?

Canberrans care about the natural environment, which has been particularly evident in the past months. Indeed, visitation to parks and reserves has seen unprecedented growth since August, for example visitation to Black Mountain in August and September almost doubled from 9,300 last year to 17,000 this year. Celebrating Biodiversity Month in lockdown in September, some of the ways Canberrans showed their appreciation included baking cakes in the shape of critically endangered species, getting crafty to support Lawson Grasslands, and using precious outdoor time to shed light on the region’s beloved Gang-gang Cockatoo. 

With so much local love for nature, it comes as no surprise that landmark environmental legislation for Territory-wide cat containment laws was passed in March 2021. In June, The ACT Government released the ACT Cat Plan 2021-2031,  a key feature of which is the containment of new cats across the Territory from July 1, 2022. While containment won’t resolve all issues surrounding cat predation, it is a great start in a city like Canberra, where nature reserves are located close to suburban cat owners’ properties. However, the start date for the laws mean that all new kittens purchased up until July 1st 2022 won’t be included under the containment requirements. Given that domestic cats often live for over 15 years, this means that under the new laws, owned cats could still be roaming Canberra until 2037! 

In light of the recent research it is prudent to question whether the laid back implementation of cat containment is appropriate. Of increasing concern, is the fact that the already costly estimates highlighted in the recent research are in fact conservative due to the limitations of available assessment methods. 

Despite the slow implementation, the ACT Cat Plan 2021-2031 is undoubtedly a positive step forward for invasive species management. The recent research supports this and confirms what many locals already know to be true: while cats are a valued domestic pet to many, when released into our environment there are costs to wildlife, the economy, and their own health; and the ACT Region is no longer prepared to pay the price. 

Find more information on cat containment here: https://conservationcouncil.org.au/our-campaigns/nature-waterways/cat-containment-love-your-cat-and-wildlife-too/ 

Read more about the study here: https://blog.csiro.au/pest-plants-and-animals-cost-australia-around-25-billion-a-year/