Australian authorities are killing millions of feral cats with poisoned sausage

Auscape/UIG via Getty ImagesA feral cat inside a trap.
  • Australia has a bit of a cat problem.
  • There are between 2 and 6 million feral cats on the continent, according to the New York Times.
  • Officials are using sausages with an ingredient that is poisonous for cats to combat the issue.
  • The species is considered invasive to the region and is killing off indigenous animals.
  • Authorities hope to kill 2 million cats by 2020, but not everyone feels good about this.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Australia has a cat problem – and it’s not of the domesticated variety. According to the New York Times, there are between two and six million feral cats living on the continent.

Now, officials are trying to do something about them. Authorities hope to kill 2 million cats by 2020, says CNN.

Although they look like household cats and might even meow like household cats, these animals display completely different behaviour patterns, experts say. According to CNN, the feral cats prey on Australia’s natural species.

“They are the single biggest threat to our native animals and have already directly driven into extinction 20 out of 30 mammals lost,” Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews told the Sydney Morning Herald.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, feral cats kill around 1,000 animals a year, on average. While most felines stick to smaller animals like lizards or crickets, some “catastrophic” cats have the capacity to go after larger prey repeatedly, according to the newspaper.

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A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy told CNN that the feral cats are estimated to kill over 1 million native birds and 1.7 million reptiles every day in Australia.

The Australian government first announced its plan to cull cats in 2015, reported CNN.

Part of its plan includes baiting the cats with sausages made with kangaroo meat, chicken fat, herbs and spices, and a poison named 1080. The poison is made from the gastrolobium, which is deadly to animals, the New York Times reported.

The sausages, which are dropped from aeroplanes into regions in which cats are known to be, were developed by Dave Algar, a research scientist in the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions for the state of Western Australia. Based on the success of his baits, his peers have taken to calling him Dr. Death.

Algar based the flavour of the sausages on the flavour profiles in cat food, per The Times.

“They have got to taste good,” Shane Morse, who works with the bait told the newspaper. “They are the cat’s last meal.”

But the baiting isn’t the only method. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, indigenous species are being trained to avoid the feral cats. Guard dogs have also been employed to protect some of the native species that need it.

More active measures are being taken, too. In some cases, professional trappers and shooters are hunting cats with crossbows.

In some parts of the country, people are encouraged to hunt cats on their own. In Queensland, a northeastern state, a cat has a bounty of $US10 AUD ($7 USD), per CNN. While PETA and others have decried this policy – and the culling in general – Australian officials stand by them.

Before Europeans brought the animals to the continent in the 19th century, there were no cats in Australia. Officials say that they are doing what they must to preserve the natural wildlife.

“We are not culling cats for the sake of it, we are not doing so because we hate cats,” Andrews told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We have got to make choices to save animals that we love, and who define us as a nation like the bilby, the warru (Black-footed rock-wallaby) and the night parrot.”

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