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The Australian war on cats: how did it start and how will it end?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Following the Australian government statement released at the beginning of September, the country is now officially at war – against cats. The invasive species is held responsible for the extinction of at least 22 Australian native mammals since their arrival in the country.

For years, Australians tried easing the problem by adopting tight cat restrictions, such as limiting each household to two pet cats and designating suburbs as “cat containment zones”, requiring pets to be kept indoors at all times.

Now, the situation has escalated and gotten to the point where the Federal Government is issuing a draft action plan, which includes measures to allow the hunt of feral cats and the euthanasia of some found in the wild.

The settlement of the foreign species

The first cats are believed to have arrived in Australia during the 18th century, as pets of the European settlers. Later, they were more vastly introduced in an attempt to control rabbits and rodents, the pests of the time. As of now, the species covers 99.8% of Australian territory.

For a long time, the country’s main problem was feral cats, unowned cats that would live in the wilderness and avoid human contact. Historical records indicate that those felines first became feral around Sydney by 1820, and later spread through Australian territory. By the early 1900s, they had already become an issue.

Around the 1990s, the situation gained attention due to international interest in the protection of biodiversity. In 1992 Australia became a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires contracting parties to “prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate” alien species that threaten biodiversity.

The current situation

More recently, the issue has extended itself to domestic cats, estimated to kill on average 186 mammals, birds, reptiles, and frogs a year. Feral cats represent a threat to around 100 species of mammals.

According to Sarah Legge, professor at the Australian National University and one of the country’s lead researchers on the impact of cats, in an interview with the New York Times, that’s a difficult conversation to have: “Everyone was very careful about not wanting to polarize the debate, and not making people defensive about their pets.” 

“It is true that the situation and the new measures suggested controlling it spark controversy amongst local and foreign society. The government plan of action, intended to control the circulation of the feline population in the country, includes allowing the murder of such animals”, said she in this interview.

The spread of the species, both feral and domestic, poses a serious threat to the future of Australian biodiversity. Author John Woinarski, whose work revolves around the conservation of threatened species, defends that if a key action was to be chosen to preserve the country’s biodiversity, it would be the control or the eradication of feral cats.

The attempt at solving the problem

The government has announced a plan to solve the issue that includes creating programs for recreational hunters to shoot feral cats and also euthanizing some cats found in the wild.

Animal rights activists have been advocating for nonlethal control methods since the first declaration of a cat war, back in 2015, and questioning the ethics behind the proposed methods.

They argue that the government’s plan doesn’t address the more pressing problem in urban areas, the fact that stray cats are not de-sexed and have no one to contain them. “We’re making cats criminals when they’re the victims when people are dumping them and leaving them to fend for themselves”, says cat rescuer Tania Katsanis.

Tanya Plibersek, Australian minister for the Environment and Water, stated that feral cats kill around two billion animals annually, and therefore need to be contained. If the controlling measures are approved, cat owners will be required to keep their pets home at night. There will also be a cat limit per residence and the creation of cat-free zones.

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The article above was edited by Clarissa Palácio.

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Isadora Mangueira

Casper Libero '26

Brazillian journalism major. Passionate about everything media related and obsessed with learning more about the world.