Lesson

Feral Cats

Okay. So, how did cats get to Australia?

Cats first arrived obviously with the first Europeans. So, on the first ships that came to Australia, from when the First Fleet arrived and onwards there were definitely domestic cats in Australia, and it’s even possible that the earlier Dutch ship wrecks around Australia released domestic cats onto the continent.

So, why were they on ships in the first place, though?

Cats were on ships, as they had been used elsewhere for millennia, for pest control, right. They had been there in order to keep rats, mice, and even cockroaches at bay, to try and control those pest species, to control their numbers.

So, once the First Fleet arrived in Australia, these cats were brought ashore and allowed to sort of roam freely in the hopes of controlling pests around the early colony. So, these free-roaming domestic cats, obviously, escaped or just simply wandered off into the bush, but they were also intentionally released around farmland and homesteads in order to control rats and mice and rabbits as well. And rabbits are another problem pest in Australia that had also been released at about the same time as a source of food that people could hunt.

So, historical records date the introduction of cats to Australia to around 1804, and that the first cats became feral around Sydney by about 1820. And by the early 1900s, concern was expressed at the pervasiveness of the cat problem. So, they were already a cat problem by the early 1900s. Okay.

So, cats became feral and they lived in the bush in Australia, but why is that a problem? You know, why are cats… why are cute, cuddly nice little cats a problem in Australia?

So, terrestrially speaking, that means in terms of talking about the land as opposed to the ocean, cats as a group, a group of mammals, are some of the most successful predators to currently be inhabiting any parts of the world, so, the world’s environments and habitats, cats are an amazing predator. They are killing machines. In whichever environment you find them, they are stealthy assassins, stealthy killing machines, and despite being relatively newcomers to Australia, they are as successful here as anywhere else in the world, potentially even more so, because so many of the animals in Australia are naive to cats, they do not understand that cats pose a threat, right, because they haven’t evolved with cats in the local environment.

So, cats also have very few predators, namely dingoes and wedge-tailed eagles, Australia’s largest eagle, and dingoes are native dog that we have here in Australia. So, where these native Aussies don’t live, the dingoes and the wedge tailed eagles, cats reign supreme as the local apex predator, meaning the predator at the top of the food chain. They don’t have to fear anyone eating them and they can pretty much eat anything else.

Feral cats also have a vicious and voracious appetite. They will eat pretty much anything that lands on their plate, anything that walks in front of them, right, anything that they come across. Thus, they are very bad news for any ground-nesting birds, any lizards, small mammals, frogs, insects that also live on the ground, and they have likely underpinned, that is they have caused, the population collapse and extinction of many Australian native animals, which is quite tragic. So, they are currently thought to threaten the existence of at least 35 birds, 36 mammals, 7 reptiles, and 3 amphibians. Really, really tragic.

So, today there are estimated to be about 3.3 million pet cats in Australia, that is domestic cats, living in houses, and they’re found in about 29% of Aussie homes. In comparison, so keep that number in mind, 3.3 million pets, there is between 18 and 23 million feral cats living, prowling, stealthily moving about all corners of the Australian continent except tropical rainforest. So, there’s almost one cat… there’s potentially one cat per person roaming around free in Australia killing native animals.

So, what does this mean? Well, greater than 18 million cats need to eat a lot of food and that means 7 million native animals a day, to be precise, which equates to a staggering 27 billion animals per year that these cats eat in Australia. So, obviously, it is a heavy toll on the Australian environment, well, and the animals.

Besides the obvious threat to native wildlife that this ferocious apex predator poses, they also pose a significant threat to your average household moggy, your average household cat, as they can transmit diseases, they can fight and injure your cats as well. So, they’re a big, big, big problem. This is why many Aussies, including your average Joe to your hunters as well as your conservationists and environmentalists have declared war on the feral cat and want to see them eradicated from the wild.

So, though, you may compare them to your average domestic cat, they are completely different, they are a completely different beast. They are vicious wild animals that pose a threat to the existence of numerous native species.

If you own a cat in Australia, this is why it’s so important to keep them inside at all times so as to keep them away from other feral cats or people’s pet cats next door and also to prevent them running away, getting injured, and killing native animals too, most importantly.


Vocabulary

A cat problem – an issue with cats

A colony – a group of people of one nationality or race living in a foreign place

A conservationist – a person who advocates or acts for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife.

A dingo – a native Australian dog that is often yellow or orange in colour

A domestic cat – a pet cat

A feral cat – a domestic cat that lives wild and is not used to humans

A heavy toll on ST – a significant burden on ST

A homestead – a house, especially a farmhouse, and outbuildings.

A killing machine – ST very good at killing things

A newcomer – SO/ST new to SW

A population collapse – the sudden reduction in numbers of a species

A predator – an organism that hunts other organisms

A ship wreck – a boat after it has sunk

A significant threat (to ST) – a large danger to ST.

A source of food – ST that can be eaten

A wedge-tailed eagle – Australia’s largest eagle which is defined by its tail in the shape of a wedge

An apex predator – a predator at the top of a food chain, i.e. which has no predators above it

An appetite – a natural desire to satisfy a bodily need, especially for food

An average Joe – an average person

An environmentalist – a person who is concerned about protecting the environment

As opposed to ST – as compared to ST

Bad news for ST – ST that is unpleasant or undesirable for ST else

Bring ST ashore – take ST onto land (from being on water, i.e. on a boat at sea)

Come across ST – find ST by chance

Control ST’s numbers – (in terms of pests) prevent their populations from getting too large

Cuddly – causing one to want to hug ST

Equate to ST – equal ST

Eradicate ST – completely get rid of ST

Evolve with ST – change and adapt to an environment with ST else at the same time

Extinction – (of a species to) no longer exist

Farmland – land uses for farming

Ferocious – savagely fierce, cruel, or violent

For millennia – for 1000s of years

Ground-nesting – (of an animal) making its nest on the ground

Hunt ST – pursue and kill ST for food or other resource

In the first place – in the beginning; at the start

Inhabit ST – live in ST

Intentionally – on purpose

Keep ST at bay – maintain ST away from SW

Land on SO’s plate – appear in front of you, often as a task you need to do

Next door – your neighbour’s house beside yours

Onwards – further into time or space; forwards

Pervasiveness – the presence of ST in every part of a thing or place

Pest control – the regulation and maintenance of species that are a nuisance

Prowl – of a person or animal) move about restlessly and stealthily, especially in search of prey

Reign supreme – be the most important thing; be in complete control

Roam freely – be unhindered in ST’s ability to move around a place

Staggering – astonishing

Terrestrially speaking – in terms of things related to the land

The bush – the Australian outback

The wild – the natural environment

Threaten ST – cause (someone or something) to be vulnerable or at risk; endanger

To be precise – to be exact

Tragic – very sad

Transmit ST – pass ST on (to ST else)

Tropical rainforest – very wet forest in the tropics, i.e. at the Equator

Underpin ST – support, justify, or form the basis for

Vicious – deliberately cruel or violent

Voracious – wanting or devouring great quantities of food

Wander off – walk away