No. 226


Stone the crows! They will need the ammunition to use on the cats.

There was a fuss last week about feral cats killing 75 million native animals a day.[i] The figure was not sourced and it seems no one knows how many cats are out there.[ii]

Which inevitably leads to people suggesting we demonise ferals and turn them into a metaphor for “for the universal, unwanted asylum seeker and migrant – they are creatures that cross boundaries of their own volition; independent, outsider figures accused of threatening a properly Australian ‘natural’’ order. They threaten to fragment that fragile and threatened reality: ‘Australia’.”

According to University of Tasmania professor of sociology Adrian Franklin “hating the cat and performing acts of control and eradication maintains the idea of an Australia threatened from outside and creates a form of solidarity among insiders and on-siders who must remain vigilant.”[iii]

Professor Franklin is not alone. Others argue a preference for the pure merino in plants and animals is part of people’s political identity and assumptions about “where certain categories of person (indigene-settler-migrant-refugee) sit on a moral hierarchy of cultural belonging. In this context the idea of ‘nativeness’ has assumed a heightened symbolic significance well beyond its use in environmental discourses about ‘natural’ ecological systems.” [iv]

Yes, environmental concern cloaks prejudice, antipathy to species invasion is linked to colonialism and we use animals “as mere metaphorical stand-ins for humans.” [v] And, the more alien the beasties the better they serve this purpose. Thus Morgan Richards comments on Mark Lewis’s celebrated documentary about the cane toad:

Lewis charts a precarious course between anthropomorphism and searing cultural critique. Without ever actually slipping into anthropomorphism, or allowing the toad to stand as a straightforward metaphor for other things, he focuses on the cultural and political appropriation of the toad as a means of legitimating and furthering various social and political agendas from immigration to environmental politics and conservation.[vi]

Mark Sagoff even famously made the case for what sounds to the Crows like open environmental borders: “The belief that non-native species diminish biodiversity and impair ecosystem health or integrity should not rely on stipulative definitions, for example, on concepts of biodiversity that exclude non-native species or concepts of health that make their presence a per se indicator of environmental decline.”[vii]

And, in any case, who gets to decide what does not belong where? “With rapid global climate change, many species are naturally entering new territory, as they track a suitable climate to meet their needs. Shouldn’t these populations be treated as native?” [viii]

Not really – cats do well everywhere basically because they are the predator as parasite. Like many (I’m guessing most) invasive plants and feral animals they degrade Australian landscapes and the wildlife that evolved to live on them. Pest animals cost agriculture $1bn a year and cause “mammal and bird extinctions.” [ix] Cats are specifically held responsible for the extinction of 20 native species.[x]

It is outright idiotic to compare humanity to invasive species, unless you see us as a bigger problem than pussycats. And, what a surprise, people do:

There is no denying that our species’ numerousness and our own migratory activities have meant that human-enabled species migration is currently far more prevalent than species migration … There is no denying that humans are collectively exerting pressures on the world’s ecologies – indeed, on the world ecology – that are accelerating both species extinction and species adaptation beyond the rates known within geological memory.[xi]

American ecologist Daniel Simberloff saw this coming a decade back; warning that critics of introduced species would be compared to the Nazis, who wanted to eradicate invasive plants for being insufficiently Germanic. To counter such comparisons he said the case against invasive species must focus on what they degrade and devour:

The strongest ethical bases and possibly the only ethical bases, for concern about introduced species are that they can threaten the existence of native species and communities and they can cause staggering damage, reflected in economic terms, to human endeavours.[xii]

Quite right and that’s that for the feral cat.

Of course this is easier said than done. For a start, the vast feral cat population will take a lot of killing, their ranks are replenished by idiots abandoning pets. And cats are only part of the problem for native species – land clearing and foxes, for example, do not help – and there is no single strategy.[xiii]

Except, of course, in Canberra – where the territory government is considering a long-term plan to require people to keep their cats always indoors.[xiv]

I wonder what Professor Franklin will make of mandatory detention for cats.

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[i] Rachel Carbonell and Erin Parke, “The deadly and devious hunting tricks of feral cats, ABC Radio, The World Today October 13 @ recovered on October 18

[ii] Tim Doherty, “To eradicate feral cats we need to know how many are out there,” The Conversation October 17 @ recovered on October 18

[iii] Adrian Franklin, “Hatred of feral cats hides a sinister truth,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 8 2013

[iv] David Trigger et al “Ecological restoration, cultural preferences and the negotiation of ‘nativeness’ in Australia,” Geoforum xxx (2007)

[v] Filippo Menozzi, “Invasive species and the territorial machine: Shifting interfaces between ecology and the postcolonial,” Ariel 44,4 181-204, 101

[vi] Morgan Richards “Cane toads in Mark Lewis’s films,” in Jodi Frawley and Iain McCalman, Rethinking invasion ecologies from the environmental humanities (Routledge, 2014) 154

[vii] Mark Sagoff, “Do non-native species threaten the natural environment,” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 18 (2005) 215-234, 218

[viii] Melinda Trugden and Bruce Webber, “What is a native and why should we care,” The Conversation, recovered on October 18

[ix] Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre @ recovered on October 18

[x] Jim Radford, “Feral cats will never be eradicated,” ABC Environment, October 15 @ recovered on October 20

[xi] Alexis Harley, “In defence of invasive species,” The Conversation, December 17 2012 @ recovered on October 18

[xii] Daniel Simberloff, “Confronting introduced species: a form of xenophobia,” Biological Invasions, 5 (2003) 179-192, 192

[xiii] Radford op cit

[xiv] Siobhan Heanue, “Canberra cat containment could be extended city-wide,” ABC News, October 14 @ recovered on October 18