Why are so many Australian towns introducing cat curfews?

Native wildlife species pushed to the brink of extinction by vast army of feral and domestic felines

(Image credit: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

The Adelaide suburb of Marion is the latest Australian town considering a cat curfew, which would keep the area’s felines behind closed doors after sundown.

The City of Marion council is due to vote on the proposal tomorrow. The measure appears likely to pass, with some councillors even calling for a state-wide feline curfew across South Australia.

If approved, Marion would become the latest in a string of Australian towns and cities where cats are barred from going out on the prowl at night - and sometimes banned from going outside altogether.

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Canberra currently has 12 “cat containment” suburbs, where owners who let their cats outdoors can be fined AUS$1,500 (£840).

In 2015, the federal government considered implementing a similar ban nationwide, effectively turning the nation’s 20 million moggies into indoor cats.

The preoccupation with policing cat behaviour may seem surprising to outsiders, but advocates of controls on cats argue that the threat posed to Australia’s native wildlife justifies forceful measures.

First introduced by European settlers in the 19th century, cats now kill 75 million native animals per day, The Independent reported in 2015, mostly birds and reptiles. They have been identified as contributing factors in the the extinction of at least 20 mammal species, including the desert bandicoot.

Pets are only part of the problem: Australia also has a vast feral cat population. “Each feral cat kills up to 1,000 native animals a year, ranging from crickets to lizards and small mammals,” the The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The most predatory wild felines can go even further. Indigenous rangers on tribal lands in north-west South Australia “caught a 6.8-kilogram cat with a 5 kilogram rock-wallaby (warru) in its gut”.

Since 2015, the government has been funding grassroots culling initiatives, as part of a plan to kill two million feral cats across the nation by 2020.

Some tactics have proven controversial - the Queensland shire of Banana came under fire last year when the council introduced a AUS$10 (£5.60) bounty for scalps of feral cats - but advocates say that the alternative is the total extinction of some native bird and animal species.

Less extreme measures to cut down on the cat population are also becoming increasingly widespread. A ban on pet cats is a common feature of new housing development both in Australia and New Zealand, which faces similar threats to native species.

Nonetheless, Australia’s new Threatened Species Commissioner Sally Box says the government is not trying to drive out cat lovers, but simply change owners’ habits to reflect the danger to local wildlife.

“It’s not about preventing people from having cats - they are important companions for a lot of people,” she told The Weekend Australian last month. “We’re just trying to encourage responsible pet ownership.”

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