Plan to shield native species from threat posed by cats

Australia could have more cat-free suburbs under a $60 million plan to reduce the billions of wildlife deaths caused by feral and pet cats every year.

The draft plan, released by the federal government on the eve of Threatened Species Day, has lofty ambitions including driving down cat populations and ensuring they don't cause any new extinctions.

It also seeks to protect native species not currently threatened by cats, which kill two billion reptiles, birds and mammals each year, or about six million every single night.

The draft plan, estimated to cost at least $60 million, is focused on feral cats but also deals with the threat posed by pets, which take a terrible toll on native wildlife particularly in urban areas.

It lays out what needs to be done over the next five to 10 years, as part of a 30-year mission to reduce the impact of cats to the point where all affected native species will have a future.

Nine core objectives include protecting species most at threat from cats, including expanding the nation's network of cat-free fenced and island havens.

New culling and population control solutions will be pursued and there'll be a focus on reducing the density of free-roaming cats around population centres.

The draft plan says pet cats "also cause predation and disease impacts on native species, and can become a source for the feral cat population" especially around human habitation and infrastructure.

Proposed actions include enabling local governments to more easily pass by-laws that designate suburbs as cat-free.

Local governments could also require owners to contain their animals, and limit how many cats people can have.

There could also be impacts for developers who might, for example, want to put in a new road that might allow cats to move in on a susceptible species.

The plan says regulators should have to consider those impacts, as well as habitat loss, when weighting up the environmental impact of projects.

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says the nation must get a handle on cats if unique Australian species are to be saved.

"Feral cats have played a role in two thirds of mammal extinctions over the last 200 years and currently threaten over 200 nationally listed threatened species, including the greater bilby, numbat, and Gilbert’s potoroo," she said.

"Eradication of feral cats and better management of cat numbers can significantly reduce the threat to native wildlife from this lethal predator."

Public consultation on the new plan is open until December.

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