Australia’s war on cats: 24-hour curfew planned for domestic felines

© Tomas Bravo
Cat owners in Australia may be ordered to keep their pets contained at home all the time as part of the nation’s crackdown on felines over the damage they cause to native species.

The federal government will seek public support for "24-hour containment requirements for domestic cats, particularly close to identified conservation areas of significance," reported the Sydney Morning Herald citing Australia's first threatened species commissioner, Gregory Andrews.

The measure would require state and local authorities to cooperate with the government program aimed at protecting native species. Announced earlier this month, the measure involves the culling of 2 million feral cats in Australia till 2020. The plan drew criticism from animal rights campaigners, including French actress Brigitte Bardot, who said killing cats was cruel and ineffective.

READ MORE: Former sex symbol Bardot calls Aussie plan to kill 2mn feral cats 'animal genocide'

Introduced two centuries ago by European settlers, cats are considered among the most dangerous pests in Australia along rabbits and red foxes. There are no native species of feline on the continent. They spread across various environments and have been recorded to predate on at least 400 native species, according to a study published in Journal of Biogeography in May.

“Feral cats help themselves to a phenomenal number of species in Australia – 400 different vertebrates. This includes 123 bird species, 157 reptiles, 58 marsupials, 27 rodents, 21 frogs and nine exotic medium- and large-sized mammals. This is more than double the 179 species of animals that cats have been recorded eating on other islands worldwide,” said Tim Doherty, one of the authors of the paper.

Cats have been implicated in the extinction of at least 20 species of mammal in Australia and are currently hunting at least 16 globally-threatened species and 12 others classed as near-threatened.

READ MORE: Australia to kill 2mn feral felines to protect native species

The planned containment of pet cats is meant to contribute to the crackdown on their feral cousins in Australia. The domestic animals would not be able to hunt endangered species and would also not fall victim to poisonous baits that would be used to kill the feral ones.

Strict containment rules were in place since 2005 in 12 suburbs adjacent to nature reserves in the capital city, Canberra, in southeastern Australia, the Herald said, and an expert report recommended the Australian Capital Territory government to expand it across the territory.

However there are concerns that such confinement may harm some of the pets.

"Some cats are very stressed when they are confined, it can actually induce behavioral issues and some physical problems as well," vet Michael Archinal told the newspaper.

The problems may include bladder issues and anxiety, as access to the wild provides cats with mental stimulation and a chance to exhibit behavior like scratching and marking, which owners would often not tolerate at home.