BY RYAN QUINN
City of Sydney Council is preparing to battle a Federal Government plan to cull two million feral cats, some of which live within the council limits.
Greens Councillor Irene Doutney brought a motion to council in early August seeking humane alternatives to baiting, most notably exploring Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).
“There are ways in an urban environment where we can control these things without ever having to revert to culling, shooting, or baiting. I think baiting in particular is very concerning,” Clr Doutney said.
$6.6 million has been committed to the culling, set to occur before 2020, in a bid to preserve native species which Environment Minister Greg Hunt said are endangered by feral cats.
TNR programs have been praised as a more effective and humane alternative, but they face legal challenges.
Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich told City Hub that desexing is a preferable option.
“TNR programs primarily involve desexing a large proportion of a specific population of un-owned, stray, feral or pest animals and returning them to the place where they were found,” Mr Greenwich said.
An undesexed female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in seven years, according to Mr Greenwich.
“TNR programs can help break this cycle,” he said.
Founder of animal charity Maggie’s Rescue, Lisa Wright, agreed with Mr Greenwich, and said that desexing will see cat numbers naturally decrease over time.
“Whether you love cats or hate cats, the best way to manage them is the same, and that’s TNR,” Ms Wright said.
However, TNR programs are currently in breach of laws prohibiting the re-release of animals without proper ownership, including the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 and the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.
Ms Wright said it was “tragic” that such an “effective way to manage feral cats” was illegal.
“Right now people are doing it under cloak and dagger kinds of situations because they don’t want to be prosecuted for trying to manage what is an environmental issue,” she said.
Mr Greenwich tried introducing a bill into the NSW Parliament in September last year that would legalise TNR in the state.
The bill was introduced in the last parliament unsupported by both the coalition and opposition, ultimately lapsing at this year’s state elections.
Mr Greenwich is currently working with the Animal Justice Party Secretary Mark Pearson on amendments to pass the reform.
Ms Wright said she is sure that TNR is the only option, and that the Federal Government’s current plan to bait cats has been proven to be inhumane.
“From my experience with baiting animals, it’s usually a slow, painful death,” she said.
A major concern is that baiting may also inadvertently kill domesticated cats and other animals.
Team Dog Director Darren Eldrad told City Hub that pet cats and dogs have already been killed by baits in the past.
“The idea that this bait just targets feral cats is bullshit. It’s a poison that will kill not just cats but other native wildlife, the very things they’re saying they’re going to protect,” Mr Eldrad said.
“If I lived in Sydney, I would be absolutely petrified that my pets would consume that poison,” he said.
Ms Wright said evidence suggests that the first species to grow in numbers after a colony of cats are culled are rats and mice.
“Rodents do much more damage to the ecosystem than cats do,” she said.
Mr Eldrad said the uncertainty around the culling’s impacts was concerning.
“We can’t predict what killing all these feral cats is going to do, it could make things much, much worse,” Mr Eldrad said.
Ms Wright and Mr Eldrad also expressed confusion over the number of cats the plan has chosen to cull.
“You couldn’t even call it a band aid response, because nobody knows the size of the injury or the wound…nobody can even give you an accurate estimate as to how many feral cats are in Australia,” Mr Eldrad said.
Mr Eldrad says that nobody actually knows how many feral cats are in Australia.
“Either way, 2 million in cats being killed is not going to solve anything in the wider scheme of things,” he said.
The City of Sydney Compliance Animal Officer is currently compiling a report to explore TNR and other alternatives, as well as working with local community cat groups to prevent culling within the council area.