As Australia slowly eases its lockdowns for humans, another group is seeing its movements restricted by authorities: cats.
A number of cities across the country are imposing round-the-clock curfews on the animals not because of Covid, but in order to protect local wildlife and “improve neighbourhood relations”.
Other areas have brought in night time lockdowns for the pets, with fines for the owners of offenders, in moves that have prompted mewls of protest from feline-loving locals.
The council of Bendigo, a city of some 100,000 people north of Melbourne, this month voted unanimously for a local law that means cats must stay within the boundary of their owner’s property day and night.
Bendigo previously banned cats from going out between sunset and sunrise.
“Cats will instinctively hunt and kill wildlife, even if they are not hungry,” according to the council’s website.
Officials hope the curfews prevent incidents such as this, where a cat is caught with a bandicoot in its mouth
Credit: Invasive Species Council
Curfews also mean fewer “accidents with cars, cat fights, picking up diseases or pests, or getting lost”.
It adds that such restrictions lead to “less spraying and howling, causing dogs to bark… and defecating in gardens”.
The area around Canberra, the capital, will introduce a curfew for all new cats starting from next summer, while Knox, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, is already trialling a 24-hour cat lockdown, due to come into full force from April 2022.
Bendigo councillors said that the measure would encourage responsible pet ownership. Owners will have to pay up to 125 Australian dollars, roughly £65, to reclaim their pet if it is found outside and held by the council.
Julie Sloan, one of Bendigo’s councillors, said residents would be given time, education and resources to prepare for the transition.
“It’s important to make a distinction that the proposal does not restrict cats to indoors 24/7. Rather cats must be contained to the property 24/7,” Ms Sloan told ABC, the Australian broadcaster.
Feral cats are a big problem in Australia
Credit: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
On Tuesday, wildlife advocates in northern Queensland urged local governments to do the same. Beau Peberdy, the president of FNQ Wildlife Rescue, told ABC that he believed “cat curfews and tougher laws should be introduced Australia-wide”.
“I don’t think there should be a curfew, but rather cats should be kept indoors or in adequate enclosures at their own homes at all times,” he said.
About 80 per cent of Bendigo residents said that they supported the move. However, in other areas, locals said they were “really disappointed” by what they saw as overzealous restrictions.
“From my understanding, owls are the biggest predator of wildlife yet our domestic cats are continually blamed,” one wrote online after Knox City Council voted to impose a lockdown.
Brian May, the Queen guitarist, even waded into the debate when such measures were first being proposed last year.
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“What are they gonna do next? Put a curfew on birds in case they might poop on Mr. Precious’s garden,” he said.
“I also note the lame attempt to try to pretend this is about protection of wild animals. It’s not. And do they really think cats only scratch at night?”
Several Australian regions recently ended months-long Covid lockdowns and the country eased its external border restrictions, though a number of anti-Covid measures remain in place.