Cats at large on the Mornington Peninsula

Environmentalists in Mornington Peninsula are concerned that native wildlife is under threat from domestic and feral cats.
Domestic cat laws on the Mornington Peninsula have come under scrutiny as native wildlife is under threat from increased attacks, as Jordan Hay reports.

Environmentalists are calling on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council to better manage domestic cats as they are killing native wildlife.

Michael Johnson, director of the Moonlit Sanctuary in Pearcedale, says the domestic cat laws need to be followed by owners to protect their pets, as well as other wildlife.

“Cats often get killed on the roads… [they] aren’t going to leave fences if they are contained.”

Residents are encouraged to be responsible cat owners by the shire, however the next review of the Domestic Animal Management Plan isn’t due until the end of the year.

The current cat curfew laws state that there is a $100 on-the-spot penalty for owners whose cats are not securely confined, and over $300 for repeat offenders.

Mr Johnson says the current fines aren’t stopping negligent cat owners from ignoring the laws.

“People with cats who don’t do the right thing probably do not care about their pet.”

In the latest council report from 2013, 603 ‘cats at large’ were captured by local residents and the Mornington Peninsula Shire.

Mr Johnson says toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease in cats that affects the immune system, is becoming more common.

“It threatens the lives of possums… and it only takes a scratch to pass it on.”

His sanctuary has had experience with the illness.

He says the food provider for the sanctuary’s possums was suspected to have a cat weeing on the food, as toxoplasmosis can be transmitted through urine.

The possums were becoming ill, and it was later confirmed the provider has a cat in the basement to keep out rats and mice.

Mr Johnson says that the evolution of domestic cats into feral cats is also a problem.

He says feral cats eat small animals, which leaves possums and other native fauna at risk.

“Marsupials cannot cope with the sudden increase of predators and subsequent disease that come with them.”

With the number of feral cats on the rise, possums are requiring more human help.

Gillian Donath, a shelter owner with AWARE Wildlife, says cat laws need to be stronger to help as many animals as possible.

“Councils, along with other regulatory bodies, need to look at ways to ensure our unique wildlife is being protected.”

The Mornington Peninsula Shire is being encouraged to incorporate laws to protect native wildlife in the next review of the Domestic Animal Management Plan.

Mrs Donath says there has been a huge increase in the number of possums requiring rehabilitation over the last few years.

Over the past year alone, Mrs Donath’s shelter has rehabilitated 101 brush-tail possums and 331 ringtail possums.

“There are many reasons possums come into care – attack by feral, stray or domestic cats…  trauma from car hits, and falls from power lines.”

Mrs Donath says “many animals die at the scene of the [cat] attack”.

“We only see the tip of the iceberg of victims of cat attacks… the low recovery rate from attacks leads to most being taken to the vet and being euthanised.”

Mr Johnson and Mrs Donath have both noticed the decreasing populations of native species in certain areas.

Mrs Donath says that despite the obvious population drops, the number of cat attacks has remained consistent.

“Unfortunately, cats have almost entirely wiped out the population of ringtail possums and sugar gliders in some areas. While brush-tail possums, being around the same size as a cat, are… brought into care due to… dog attacks.”

Mrs Donath also notes that habitat loss is also a reason why cat attacks are still a major issue for possums.

“Over the last few years… many homes and gardens are being bulldozed for development… new owners renovate gardens using modern design… and use non-native [flora].”

Both Mr Johnson and Mrs Donath agree that the shire needs to do more to stop an increase in feral cats.

Mrs Donath says the Mornington Peninsula shire needs to ensure cats are staying on their owner’s property.

“We do not tolerate roaming dogs nor should we tolerate roaming cats, and the way to ensure this is outdoor cat runs.”

A spokesman for the Mornington Peninsula shire was not available for comment.