Written and researched by Marcus Dorsum
Recently, a post on Facebook from Australian mainstream media outlet 7 News Queensland (owned by Yahoo, the Australian equivalent of MSNBC) went viral, in which it was reported that a town in Queensland is offering small amounts of money to people who literally bring them the scalps of feral cats or kittens.
“Do you support cat culling?
Feral cats are becoming an issue in the Banana Shire, so council’s put a bounty on their heads.
Residents are being rewarded $10 for a cat’s scalp and $5 for a kitten.”
Yes, you read that right: scalp a wild kitten in Queensland and you’ll earn five whole dollars.
This isn’t just a local thing, the Australian federal government started a program to kill off millions of feral cats.
The comments are a raging debate.
If one does a bit of research into the history of feral cats in Australia, they will find wildly varying strong opinions.
Some claim that feral cats are vicious animals who threaten to extinguish other species (as they allegedly already have. Others disagree, and note that the cats have been running wild in Australia for hundreds of years.
Before further investigating this debate, here’s some perspective on the Australian government’s recent history trying to cull populations of species considered invasive.
This article from the Mind Unleashed is titled “Australia to Give Fish Herpes, Annihilate Invasive Species With Biowarfare: Scientists Protest.” Reading from it:
“The Australian government is going to spend $11 million giving herpes to its carp population in an effort to annihilate the invasive species, inviting criticism from scientists.
It could cause “catastrophic ecosystem crashes,” constituting “a serious risk to global food security,” as researchers warned in an academic journal called Nature Ecology & Evolution.”
That isn’t the only recent hare brained plot to annihilate an entire species in Australia. While the continent certainly has an easily disruptable ecosystem, once the damage is done, the idea that the state could (or should) reverse the ecological change and just un-introduce a species with a mass culling is debatably ridiculous.
An article from the New York Times took a brief look at Australia’s efforts to kill two million stray cats in 2015. Reading from it:
“To Brigitte Bardot, it is nothing less than “animal genocide.” To the singer of Morrissey, it is “taking idiocy just too far.” Indeed, Australia’s plan to kill two million stray cats – “two million smaller versions of Cecil the Lion,” in Morrissey’s poignant formulation – is a jaw dropper.”
The article then took the mainstream position, and insisted the culling was necessary:
“Australia’s vast population of feral cats is nothing like that. These descendants of domestic cats brought in by European settlers have evolved into efficient predators far bigger than the average house pet, and they devour an estimated 75 million native animals every day. They are responsible for a real animal genocide, having wiped out about 28 native Australian species – including the desert bandicoot, the lesser bilby and the crescent nailtail wallaby.”
An article from Conversation took an opposite stance, noting that the accuracy of official statistics on feral cats damaging Australian wildlife are not necessarily accurate, and the call for mass culling is morally questionable.
The article, titled “Australia’s war on feral cats: shaky science, missing ethics,” states:
“In July 2015, the Australian government announced a “war on feral cats,” with the intention of killing over two million felines by 2020. The threat abatement plan to enforce this policy includes a mix of shooting, trapping and a reputedly “humane” poison.
Still, some conservationists claim that cats are the single largest threat to biodiversity regardless of ecological context. One oft-cited study in Nature Communications claims that 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion small mammals are killed by cats every year in the United States alone. Yet the scientific case for this claim is shaky at best.
Why? Virtually every study of outdoor cats assumes that because cats in some habitats threaten biodiversity, they are a threat across all habitats everywhere. This is a projection from a small set of localized case studies to the world at large. In other words, a guesstimate. This is why the ranges of birds and mammals preyed upon that are cited above are so wide. Such guesstimates are neither descriptive nor predictive of the world.”
Do you think the state should spend its involuntarily taken tax revenue on killing millions of wild cats?
Wouldn’t the population of rodents and other things regularly consumed by feral cats grow “too large” if this culling was a success? Hasn’t the continent had some time to adjust to this in the past several hundred years?
Even further, it seems that attempting to cull the cat population may actually increase it. According to an article from Animals 24-7 titled “Culling cats increases the feral population, Australian study finds”:
“Perhaps the strongest scientific support yet for one of the key presumptions behind neuter/return feral cat control has emerged from a 13-month study by Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries biologist Billie Lazenby and two colleagues.
Expecting to validate the use of lethal culling, Lazenby and fellow researchers N.J. Mooney, and C.R. Dickman instead found that culling tends to markedly increase the numbers of feral cats hunting in favorable wildlife habitat.”