Cats are an absolute no-no in Australia, where essentially they are non-native and imported by thoughtless white settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries, who even more thoughtlessly let them go ‘feral’ in the wild (believe me, these seeming pussy-cats are like wild leopard cats if cornered, hissing masses of aggression!) etc. They have wreaked havoc with small native mammals (mostly nocturnal) and birds. In several eastern states, owners have to have licences for them and must observe a legally enforced ‘curfew’ banning them from wandering outdoors by night on pain of fines and other penalties, within the confines of a defined ‘metro’ urban area – in the countryside, they have been banned completely in several cases – and should be. There have been suggestions that ordinary owners only be allowed to keep cats if they are sterilised and only licensed breeders may actually breed cats.
When I first arrived in Western Australia, my garden came with about 6 dependent stray cats attached! And I had kept a couple of my own, with dogs, in Singapore before. But as I learned more about the Australian ecology, I came to the conclusion that I must harden my heart and get rid of my own cats – I took them one by one to the local Cat Haven, whence they were ‘re-homed’ (a bit of a cop-out, I know, since they were still in the Australian ecology!). The payoff has been abundant birdlife in my garden, where I cultivate native plants to attract the local birds.
It’s an interesting example of how animal welfare concerns often have to be traded off against conservationist concerns.
I wonder if all countries need to consider similar measures for the protection of wildlife? And I wonder how much research has been done on how ‘native’ domestic cats are to SE Asia?
Contributed by Ilsa Sharp, from Perth, Western Australia
Additional input by R. Subaraj: Unlike places like Australia and New Zealand, cats in Singapore are largely confined to more urbanised areas and feral cat populations are almost entirely found in the city and housing estates (see Cat Kill. Apart from the very occasional individuals, one does not come across cats in nature areas. Perhaps our Reticulated Pythons have something to do with that….! Dogs on the other hand are a problem with stray populations in many nature areas including our reserves of Bukit Timah, the Central Catchment and Sungei Buloh. They form packs and hunt our native birds and other wildlife. The first Lesser Mousedeer (highly endangered and a distinct endemic subspecies) I ever encountered in Singapore was one being pursued by three feral dogs within our Central Catchment Nature Reserve!