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Cats and Wildlife

The hunting instinct can be very strong in some cats, even well fed ones.  It was this very skill that first attracted humans to the cat and begin the domestication process. For thousands of years cats have been kept to manage pests around grain stores and on farms and many people still keep them for these reasons today.

As we have become more aware of the risks to our environment and native wildlife, a greater focus has been placed on the management of cats.  The reasons we own cats has also changed over the past 100 years.

The cat is now viewed more as a companion and we are often horrified when they remind us of their hunting past by bringing home their prey and leaving it on the step or carpet for us.  Your neighbours and community members may also find the killing of wildlife by cats distressing.

So what can we do?

Even though not all cats hunt most retain the instinct. Some may just 'play' and as a result kill small animals and birds.

There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the effect your cat may have on local wildlife.  These include:

  • Confine your cat to an enclosure. This not only protects wildlife but will keep your cat safe from injury and disease.
  • Desexing your cat. This can make them less territorial and less likely to wander.
  • Identifying your cat to ensure it can be returned to you if it does wander from your property.
  • Never dump unwanted kittens or cats, try to rehome them or take them to a shelter to be rehomed.
  • Be mindful of your community and the affect your cat may be having on native wildlife.

Stray and Semi Owned cats

Unknowingly, well intentioned people may contribute to increases in the homeless cat problem by feeding a local stray cat.  Providing food maintains homeless cats in a fertile condition enabling females to breed more often producing more homeless cats.  This can lead to the formation of  large colonies of cats in some areas.

Cats who do not have a regular food source and spend all their time outside have a greater opportunity to hunt.  In areas where large colonies have formed this can have an impact on our local wildlife.

If you do have stray cats in your neighbourhood, property owners are legally permitted to trap cats and take them to their local council, vet or animal shelter.  The cat will then be assessed in terms of condition, temperament and injury and a decision made in relation to its suitability for re-homing.  Identified cats or cats that are obviously owned must be returned to their owner or released where they were found.

Feral cats

The Management of feral cats in South Australia falls under the the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 and National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 which provides legislation on cats in remote or fragile areas.

The Dog and Cat Management Board (the Board) recognises the importance of managing feral cats to reduce the threat they pose to native wildlife and to minimise the number of homeless cats which suffer starvation, disease and injury living in the wild. The Board supports the management of feral cat colonies in remote areas, provided it is done in the most humane manner practicable and that the methods used do not pose risks to the health and safety of domestic cats or other species.

Responsible cat ownership is central to reducing the impact domestic cats have on wildlife and ensuring pets do not contribute to the feral cat population. Any cat may transition from being a domestic pet to a stray cat to a feral cat.

The Board encourages cat owners to:

  • Desex their pets; removing the chance of breeding with unowned and semi-owned cats, and having unwanted litters which contribute to the population of unowned and feral cats.
  • Microchip and identify their pet with a collar and tag; increasing the likelihood that a lost cat will be returned to its owner.
  • Keep them confined to your property, a cat enclosure or indoors; keeping them safe, minimising the threat domestic pets pose to native wildlife through their hunting behaviour, and reducing the risk they’ll become lost and enter the feral cat population.