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Low-hanging fruit: Pet cat containment a vital step to protect NSW’s wildlife

11th September, 2023

The Nature Conservation Council and the Invasive Species Council have today called on the NSW government to introduce clear laws to ensure pet cats are kept safe at home in order to save millions of native animals every year. The call comes in the wake of another 48 species added to the endangered species list and the release of an ambitious feral cat plan by the federal government.

Recently released research from the Australian National University has found that in the greater Sydney area alone there are approximately 1,086,676 pet cats. With around 71% of these being permitted to roam by their owners, this means that a shocking 66 million native animals are hunted and killed each year in Sydney. 

“If the NSW Government doesn't act on this, a quarter of a billion native animals will be killed in Sydney over the next four years” said Dr Brad Smith, Acting NCC CEO.

“Hundreds of thousands of roaming pet cats are sending our suburbs silent but, unlike in almost every other state, NSW councils cannot implement basic cat curfew due to rules due to barriers in archaic state laws.

“Owning a pet cat should come with clear responsibilities to ensure your pet is not roaming around killing our native birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs,” said Dr Smith.

NSW’s current laws not only allow cats to spend their evenings hunting and killing native animals, they actually prevent local councils from mandating that cats are contained. This means communities are powerless to institute one of the easiest and highest impact policies to protect their local ecology. 

“Many of the actions required to protect our wildlife require complex legislative reforms and significant investment from the government. In contrast, by simply removing the barriers to local councils instituting cat containment we could save millions of native animals.

“We’re calling on NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe and Local Government Minister Ron Hoenig to sit down together and fix this.” 

“Amending the law in NSW to permit local councils to implement 24/7 cat containment rules is a simple step that would have profound benefits for our native wildlife,” said Jack Gough, Advocacy Manager at the Invasive Species Council.

“Councils across the state are crying out for this amendment so that they can protect their local bushland from the enormous impacts of roaming pet cats.

“The law in NSW  is a stark contrast to the ACT which requires residents to contain their cats, or in Victoria where nearly 50% of councils have introduced cat containment rules.

“Cat containment would be a win for cat owners too. The evidence is that pet cats that are responsibly kept at home can live up to 10 years longer than if they were free-roaming.”

“In addition to changes to the law for cat containment, we also need the government to boost funding for responsible pet ownership initiatives like subsidised desexing and a state-wide education campaign,” said Mr Gough.

The Nature Conservation Council and Invasive Species Council, along with Birdlife Australia, WIRES and the Australian Wildlife Society, are calling on the NSW Government to:

  1. Amend the NSW Companion Animals Act 1998 to enable local governments to enforce anti roaming laws for pet cats at a local level. 
  2. Allocate a minimum of $9 million to fund compliance, education, desexing, identification and registration programs. 
  3. Encourage local governments to develop companion animal management plans. 
  4. Develop a state-wide web resource for pet owners. 
  5. Streamline pet identification and registration processes. 
  6. Make desexing mandatory state-wide.

Statement ends 

Media contact: Clancy Barnard 
E: [email protected]  Ph: 0438 869 332 

Images of feral cats are available here. Please credit the Invasive Species Council.

Key facts on roaming pet cats

  • Collectively, roaming pet cats kill 546 million animals per year in Australia - 323 million of these are native
  • In the Greater Sydney area, there are approximately 1 million pet cats and roaming pet cats kill 112 million animals per year  -  66 million of these are native
  • 71% of all pet cats in Australia are able to roam, and 78% of these roaming cats hunt
  • 85% of the animals killed by pet cats are not brought home
  • On average, each roaming, hunting pet cat kills more than three animals every week  - for a total of 186 animals per year. This number includes 110 native animals (40 reptiles, 38 birds and 32 mammals).
  • Hunting pet cats kill 30-50 times more native animals per square kilometre in suburbs than feral cats kill per square kilometre in the bush!  This is because pet ownership allows inflated density: While feral cats kill 4x more animals per year, there are between 54 and 100 roaming and hunting cats per square kilometre in suburbs compared to only one feral cat for every 3-4 square kilometres in the bush.  
  • Pet cats kill 6,000 to 11,000 native animals per square kilometre each year in urban areas  
  • When cats prowl and hunt in an area, wildlife have to spend more time hiding or escaping. This reduces the time spent feeding themselves or their young, or resting.
  • An analysis by the Biodiversity Council, Invasive Species Council and Birdlife Australia on the impact of roaming pet cats nationwide is available here.
  • A fact sheet developed by the Invasive Species Council, WIRES, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Birdlife Australia and the Australian Wildlife Society on changes needed to reduce the impact of pet cats on wildlife in NSW is available here.

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