To Brigitte Bardot, it is nothing less than “animal genocide.” To the singer Morrissey, it is “taking idiocy just too far.” Indeed, Australia’s plan to kill two million stray cats — “two million smaller versions of Cecil the Lion,” in Morrissey’s poignant formulation — is a jaw dropper. In a fast urbanizing world, the only cats most people come in contact with are the family pet, an animal to be pampered and scratched, not fed poisoned carrion.
Australia’s vast population of feral cats is nothing like that. These descendants of domestic cats brought in by European settlers have evolved into efficient predators far bigger than the average house pet, and they devour an estimated 75 million native animals every day. They are responsible for a real animal genocide, having wiped out about 28 native Australian species — including the desert bandicoot, the lesser bilby and the crescent nailtail wallaby.
Australia’s environment minister, Greg Hunt, announced the plan to eradicate a tenth of the estimated 20 million wild cats by 2020, calling them “a tsunami of violence and death.” That’s one way of saying they are an ecological threat that Australia must confront. Introduced species like the Australian cats, or the Burmese pythons in the Everglades or the lionfish in the Atlantic, are major threats to native plants and animals, and since they were usually brought in by humans, humans have a responsibility to deal with the problems.
Animal-rights advocates like Ms. Bardot or Morrissey are right to protect animals against cruelty or abuse, and they should insist that Australia use the least painful methods to cull the cats. And those responsible for controlling introduced species must do so with utmost care. But we cannot deny the realities of protecting the diversity and health of the species with which we share our planet.
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