Eco Cats Tasmania 2022 – Living sustainably with urban cats
Tasmania offers a unique opportunity to study the impacts of urban cats for three important reasons
1. We do not have a significant feral dog problem because the community and all levels of government came together to successfully eradicate hydatid disease and keep it contained.
2. We do not have the fox, which on the mainland adds another pressure to the natural environment
3. We do not have the intense land clearing seen in urban and peri urban mainland areas of similar size. Remaining virgin habitats have not been significantly impacted by cat invasion as the cat prefers to inhabit cleared land and hunt on mostly introduced rats, mice and rabbits, the product of human settlement.
These factors mean that many mainland solutions will likely not apply in Tasmania.
We believe that sharing scientific evidence to guide good practice of cat rescue with our community is vital.
In the background paper to the most recent cat laws published by DPIWE in 2017(1) it is acknowledged that “there is strong evidence that Tasmania’s local fauna can cope with the presence of the domestic cat as long as the original habitat is relatively intact”
It is acknowledged that there are some areas, usually coastal sea bird colonies that need to be monitored but for the majority of urban and peri-urban areas there are currently no at risk species.
Tasmania also offers a unique opportunity to take an issue that has historically divided our community and create a united plan that everyone can get behind. This idea will surprise many but exploration of current research areas is providing a solution that is palatable to all.
This is a living document. We expect it to change as we keep abreast of new and evolving research. The most topical evolving research is on cat containment which on preliminary data looks like it doesn’t work but more on that soon.
Our proposed plan is based on evidence. We will start with the plan and then list the evidence.
Eco Cat Blueprint
In addition to the current directives in the cat management act which are supported by current and emerging evidence, we propose
1. Free targeted desex, vaccination and parasite treatment of owned cats in low socio economic areas at a minimum rate of 33 cats per 1000 residents(2)
2. Supported desex, vaccination and parasite treatment of cats on farmland at a rate of 6 (best number unknown at this stage) cats per square km of owned land. Educating land owners on the importance of preventing kittens which are the vector for the spread of toxoplasmosis. Adult cats are mostly immune non spreaders and keep rodents in check.(3)
3. Provide free, humane cat deterrents for private residents whose issues have not been solved when desex targets are reached.(4)
4. Ban trapping and removal of healthy cats from any urban or peri-urban area unless evidence supports removal to protect vulnerable fauna, or unless a sick or injured cat needs rescuing. Where colonies have grown around food sources or feeders a comprehensive plan by an experienced cat management group is needed. This is where uneducated rescue groups can cause damage. Harvesting kittens without tackling population control makes everything worse. Research shows that people who are feeding colonies will step up to take ownership if desexing is free. Identifying and limiting the food and getting the community on board to continue to contain that will be vital. G to Z cat management can include novel interventions such as desexing by vasectomy owned males to assist colony control. (5)
5. Require cat rescues to only accept genuine rescue animals that are sick, injured or unable to feed themselves.(5)
6. Encourage cat curfews
7. Partner with local land care organisations to rebuild urban habitat and promote research on practices than minimise the impact of toxoplasmosis in native animals such as fertilising land with effective microbes that might offer probiotic gut protection. (6)
8. Continue to monitor the blueprint to ensure that native fauna continue to cope well with the presence of the domestic cat.
We acknowledge that the issues surrounding cats are a low priority for all levels of government and that the charity sector and community has the biggest role to play. In order to engage the community and unite them we need transparency in cat rescue in Tasmania. Evidence shows that until a community knows the current situation we cannot improve.
Exploring the evidence has led us to see clearly that stray cats cannot be thought of in isolation. The cat is inexorably linked to the introduced mouse, rat and rabbit. This quartet must be considered in all actions that will have an impact on an ecosystem. Of course humans should be considered part of that because the rat, mouse, rabbit and cat have inhabited mostly cleared land that is occupied by humans and they are reliant on us for food.
2. How targeted, high-intensity, free cat desexing programs are reducing biosecurity risks in urban areas of Australia Jacquie Rand and Emily Lancaster https://petwelfare.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Community-Cat-Program-poster.pdf
3. Effectiveness and costs of interventions to reduce the within-farm Toxoplasma gondii seroprevalence on pig farms in the Netherlands, Eppink, Dorien, July 2021Porcine Health Management 7(1):44
4. The Australian community cat program: Managing domestic cats humanely and scientifically Jacquie Rand, Emeritus Professor, the University of Queensland Executive Director and Chief Scientist, Australian Pet Welfare Foundation https://vetfest.ava.com.au/client_uploads/rand-j-contemporary-urban-cat-management/download
5. Effects of low-level culling of feral cats in open populations: A case study from the forests of southern Tasmania, Lazenby et. Al. January 2014Wildlife Research 41(5):407 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273508911_Effects_of_low-level_culling_of_feral_cats_in_open_populations_A_case_study_from_the_forests_of_southern_Tasmania
6. Yan, X., Han, W., Jin, X. et al. Study on the effect of koumiss on the intestinal microbiota of mice infected with Toxoplasma gondii. Sci Rep 12, 1271 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-05454-x https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-05454-x
2021 End year report Community Cat Program https://petwelfare.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Aust-Community-Cat-Program-Dec-2021.pdf
2008 position paper for public consultation reports cat management taking in 2500 cats annually and euthanaising 80% Thats 40 cats per week. In 2021 that is now 30% of a similar intake. Things are improving. https://stors.tas.gov.au/au-7-0037-00679$stream