Cats

In any country where cats are not endemic, they have gone feral in their thousands.  Here in Australia, they are a massive threat to native mammals, indeed, they are widely recognized as being the greatest single threat to many small mammals.

Bill Mollison, the originator of the Permaculture concept, holds strong views about cats.  He was once asked by a despairing cat-lover if he couldn't think of something good to say about cats.  "Well, a dead cat makes a passable contribution to a thick mulch" or words to that effect.  Dr John Walmsley, founder of Earth Sanctuaries, has similar views.  He is surprised that we don't catch and eat feral cats.

In contrast to the above stark position, on 20 October 2002, the Canberra Times reported on the new film 'Ten Million Wildcats'.  The film takes critical view of some of the past prejudices, both pro-cat and anti-cat.  According to the film feral cats feed mainly on rats and mice rather than native mammals and that sheep grazing has a greater impact on native species than cats.  But the film also shows that in an environment already damaged by agriculture, cats can push populations already at risk to extinction.  In the film, South Australian Museum director, Tim Flannery doubts the desirability and feasibility of taking cats out of the ecosystem.  "Predators are incredibly difficult to remove from landscapes, and if we do achieve that, we may find we're worse off because fox or rabbit numbers increase."  Instead, Flannery advocates reintroducing native mammals such as Tasmanian Devils to the mainland to create more competition for cats and foxes.

My own experience with cats supports the Mollison and Walmsley line: every few months I find the feathers of a native bird - usually a crimson rosella - on the grass at the front of our house.  A cat has been on the job.  I have yet to notice any rat or mouse fur.

Pentti Linkola, in a 1993 essay reprinted in Can Life Prevail? (2009, pp 91-97), writes "Not only are fanatical animal protectors friends of the cat, but so is half of the [Finnish] population! Man's relationship with nature has never been more deranged, reckless and hypocritical than it is with the cat: when it comes to defending the cat, many environmentalists turn cunning and deceitful ... And what about the thousands of mawkish pictures of cats in magazines? How come you never see pictures that show a cat engaging in what, according to my experience, would be more typical behaviour: like dragging the mother of a green sandpiper brood into the crevice of a cowshed, or dragging a redstart by its wing into the rose bushes of some family home? Or again, sitting on the stairs of a cottage, guarding the red-breasted robin or squirrel it has just killed? ... In August, when the fledgeling flocks of little birds move low in bushes and grassy banks, I have seen a female cat carry a little bird to its autumnal kittens every half hour past my ornithologist's workplace - not a particularly encouraging message about my work. Compared to the cat, the sparrowhawk and the hobby are just amateurs. ... The cat problem is growing all the more serious now that animal protection authorities have passed a new insane resolution: they have decreed that putting a cat down by drowning is illegal. The breeding patterns among domestic cats have long infringed all natural boundaries: each cat now has a lifespan of twenty years, brings forth two broods a year, is fertile under the age of one and knows no natural enemies. Nothing even close this has ever before been observed in nature. ... Currently hoardes of cats are posing a severe threat to the conservation of birds and wildlife. A minimum requirement would be for cats to be registered and kept on a tight leash when outside; were any cat to be found slaughtering a protected animal, its owner should be prosecuted. This however is pure utopia - as is always the case with attempts to protect nature that clash with people's ardent desires. ... It is utterly impossible to accommodate cats in [Finland's] northern lands: the cat simply remains a grievance to be rooted out. Sure, cats are linked to some solid traditions, but so are spitting on the floor and tobacco. In any case, cats must be got rid of."

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Page updated 20 July 2009