Savannah Cat photo ©copyright Kathrin Stucki - A1 Savannahs. Please respect copyright.
The Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong. The more I read about the Australians and their attitude towards domestic cats (and feral cats) the more I think it is simply wrong and muddled. This is a story about one of the most glamorous purebred pedigree cats (and I love the Savannah cat) and a cat at the bottom of the social order, the feral cat. Which is in need of help? A lot of this post developed into a discussion about the treatment of feral cats in Australia.
Australians have a problem, or so they think, with feral cats. I have talked about the feral cats of Australia (new post). From a humane perspective and my perspective, Australians as a whole as demonstrated in legislation passed their elected representatives, mistreat feral cats. As I understand it, Australians are allowed to shoot and poison feral cats (see Ground Shooting of Feral Cats). This translates to killing anyway they want. This to me seems simply barbaric. Please don't misunderstand me. I like animals and I like people. I also like good behavior towards other people and other animals.
See and read a lot more about the Savannah cat - this is the best page on this cat breed...!
There seems to be a consensus in Australia, probably originating in government, that feral cats wantonly kill their precious native wildlife. From what I have seen and read there is no hard evidence to support this. The surveys don't support this assertion and if they do they are probably biased surveys. However, one point seems to have been missed. The most important aspect of feral cats in Australia is that the Australians caused the problem and now the cat is being persecuted and punished as a result of people's errant behavior. This is typical of human behavior I am afraid to say. The people who are irresponsible should be punished and feral cats should be treated humanely and controlled gradually through a disciplined and long term approach (TNR - a tried, tested and humane method). People should show more humility and tenderness towards other animals (and less arrogance). It seems Tasmania is adopting a more humane approach by the way (see desexing feral cats).
I mention this because the feral cat "problem" has colored the decision making of the government and it is one reason why the Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong. The Australian government has imagined large (maybe very large) Savannah cats (possibly first or second generation) being abandoned and mating with feral cats to make a super feral cat that wipes out native Australian wildlife at an unheard of rate.
OK, I can see the argument and understand the fear but it is, I believe, misplaced. The problem is that the authorities had already approved (some 2 years earlier in 2006) the importation of the Savannah cat, which encouraged or allowed the Australian breeder (Glenn and Karen Parker, of Benowa) to contract with A1 Savannahs, the premier and founding breeder in America for the purchase of Savannah cats. That contract is now jeopardized or worse, the Australian breeder is forced to be in breach of contract with A1 Savannahs. The authorities cannot change their position and disregard commercial transactions made in good faith and within the law.
Further, the Savannah cat that is to be sold by the Australian breeder will be neutered/spayed so there will be no chance of a Savannah mating with a feral cat should one be abandoned or escape, which is unlikely anyway.
In addition Savannah cats at SBT level (Stud Book Tradition) are 5th generation Savannahs and I am going to presume that is type of cat that Glenn and Karen Parker would sell. In other words they are restricted under contract (with A1 Savannahs - I am guessing here though) to sell "pets" to Australians and not sell breeding Savannahs to other breeders. Savannah cats generally are no different to other cat breeds. They are well balanced cats, carefully bred to be family pets like the Bengal cat.
The Bengal cat breeders are already established in Australia. There is no difference between and SBT Bengal and an SBT Savannah in my view in terms of wildness (i.e. wild blood content). What will happen to the Bengal cat breeders and keepers?
All these factors support my argument that the Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong. It is also wrong for the government to have been so dilatory in respect of the control of feral cats until it became an overdue problem forcing the government to propose inhumane steps to control it.
Glenn and Karen Parker are now considering suing the Australian government, a tall order but forced on them and A1 Savannahs are also considering taking legal action on more than one level. It may get messy. Something that could and should have been avoided.
Here are some videos made by me. The first one show how beautiful a relationship with a Savannah cat can be and this cat is very special- MAGIC, the tallest domestic cat in the world under Guinness World Record rules:
Go on...see it in large format
Update: There has been two really good comments from an anonymous visitor and I agree with a lot of what he/she says. The situation is really a mess brought on the government of Australia for not dealing with feral cat problems much more proactively and earlier and now using the Savannah cat as a means to get themselves off the hook and divert attention from their dilatory behavior in respect of feral cats. I think it is down to a responsible "ownership" and breeding. If people can't adopt such an approach there should be regulations. The vast majority of cat breeders it seems to me are highly responsible. There also needs to be more accurate research on the impact of feral cats on native species. From what I've read some of the research is designed to serve a purpose (perhaps funded by the government); to attack the feral cat as a pest. As far as I can see, no Australians have attacked or taken proactive steps to control or punish people who act irresponsibly in relation to cat keeping. Are there plans in place to regulate the keeping of cats such as spaying and neutering and obligatory microchipping? Maybe the problem is now too big and regulations impossible to enforce. There needs to be more rational thought and less cat hating. Lastly there isn't enough hard evidence it seems on the status of the permission granted to the Parkers for the importation of Savannahs into Australia. Did they have written permission? And if so will they get compensation?
Update - 8th September 2008: the hypocrisy and arrogance of Australian people who criticize the feral cat for killing Australian wildlife is reinforced by the fact that humans created the feral cat problem in the first place and humans are by far the biggest killers of wildlife in Australia, primarily because of habitat loss, a classic example of which, is the burning of forest/woods and felling of trees to create grazing land (commercial reasons) in Northeastern Australia. WWF, the conservation charity say that 2 million mammals will be killed, some in a horrible way, (due to burning the forest) and this figure includes 9,000 koala bears as a result of the tree clearance. Some old story, I am afraid.
Update - 14th September: A petition is circulating online which some people have no doubt seen. It is really about putting the record straight on the Savannah cat which has been maligned, there is no doubt about it. I think that the petition is being driven by the Parkers and good for them. It is nice to see a fight back. One last point, I don't want people (Australians) saying that I am being naive; I am not. I understand the problems. I am able to stand back and see the wider picture. Plus I don't have a gung-ho shoot 'em up attitude.
Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong - Update - 5th October 2008: the mass and inhumane slaughter of feral cats as proposed by the authorities is not going to work anyway. This is because of the vacuum phenomenon. I would ask the Australian authorities to think again and do this properly in a controlled, moral and sensible manner. Tony Peacock the CEO of Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre would seem to agree that killing feral cats will not solve the problem. He has left a comment below.
Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong - Update - 8th October 2008: It occurred to me that I haven't clearly or fully said what I think should be done. This is it. The Australian government should set up a National Feral Cat Action Group that sponsors local communities who'd like to get involved in a trap, neuter, release program. If people were reluctant funding should be forthcoming. It is cheaper ultimately to run this scheme than to slaughter feral cats. Trap neuter release includes administering medication to cats that need it (limited to certain treatments for financial reasons), euthanizing cats that are very ill (FeLV, FIP for example), re-homing some for whom re-homing is suitable and returning neutered cats. Peoples' involvement can help create community spirit and it will be improving the lives of cats and people, while building an awareness of the need to spay and neuter. An obligatory microchipping regime can be introduced simultaneously in cooperation with state funded (for this particular task) veterinarians. People who let their cats become feral should be punished - a fine for example plus restrictions on future pet ownership. Private sponsorship could be considered (e.g. from large pet food suppliers etc.). Tony Peacock the CEO of Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (comment below) makes the point the human population of Australia is so thin that it would make TNR unrealistic. I wonder? Most feral cats inhabit urban areas don't they and form colonies? I'd be surprised if feral cats survived in areas where human population was low as feral cats depend on human activity.
Update 9th Jan 2009: Here are the two reports on the importation of the Savannah cat (and wildcat hybrids generally) by the researchers for the Australian Government: Risk Assessment on the importation of hybrid cats The conclusion is that importation of F4-F5 Savannah cats is alright. That precludes higher fillial cats that I presume the breeder in question needs to import. Draft Environmental Assessment of the suitability of the importation of the Savannah cat into Australia Both these reports are really general information documents on wildcat hybrids. They do not as far as I can see refer to or address the issue of the impact on Australian wildlife of the importation of F1-F3 Savannah cats, which seems to be the issue. Wrong? Please leave a comment.
Update Feb 2011: I have received an email from Brett Gregory.
He wanted to publish a comment on this page but decided not to in case I didn't see it. For this reason he has impliedly agreed publication. Brett is very critical of me. He thinks I am anti-Australia and stupid it seems to me. You make your own judgments, though. I respond below to his email.: Dear Sir Firstly, I am sending this as a private email, rather than part of your blog as I actually want to read this (you may well miss it in the blog for all I know).
Furthermore, I have no desire to publicly embarrass you. You need to read it for your own benefit. I should point out from the start that I am a cat owner. The current bunch of three rescued kittens have only been here for a week, but when it comes time for them to be let outside then that will be after early morning and before sunset, which is when birds feed in lower shrubs. I was looking through your PoC site today, and thinking “this is a very informative site, excellent pictures etc”, and then I came upon the following: August 2008 - The Savannah cat is in the news again.
Australia has banned the importation of this cat breed (src: AFP - Google News). The ban was declared by the Australian government's Environment Minister Peter Garrett. There was talk about this before it happened. I say that the Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong (see link to new page on this). Australians are it seems to me a little paranoid about their feral cat population, which is estimated to be at 12 million.
They think that feral cats of Australia are killing native wildlife but there would seem to be no firm data to back this up. There is also a myth that some Australian feral cats are growing to the size of big cats! Anyway, they think if the Savannah cat is imported to Australia, one or two may become feral then breed with the existing feral cats and bingo, you've got a super feral cat killing more native wildlife. Who caused the feral cat problem in Australia? There would seem to be a policy of cruelty towards the Australian feral cat and an acceptance of the irresponsible behavior of some people. Initially I thought that this was written by an American, with their worldwide, well known, complete and utter ignorance of anything outside their own country.
I was shocked to learn that it was it was written by an Englishman (at least they know where Australia is). It seems very obvious that you have never been to Australia. We still have trees and bushland here. Lots of it. We haven’t yet cut down all our trees to build a navy, to fight wars in the way that Spain and England did. In every major city there are huge areas of bushland full of native wildlife. Have a Google Earth look at Sydney Metropolitan area, observe how much bush there is right on residential areas, and ask yourself if you think there may be wildlife there. For the record, I have travelled extensively in the UK, having driven 10,000 kilometres from Land’s End to John O’Groats, which is ten times the distance as the crow flies.
Your National Parks do not even merit that title. There is little that is natural about them, and the title “National Park” is about preservation of the natural landscape and habitat. Yosemite was the first in the world, and soon after The Royal National Park on the outskirts of Sydney (and mostly within the metropolitan region) was the second. We are not “a little paranoid about the feral cat population”. Most of us are reasonably tall. We bloody know it’s a massive problem. We know that domestic cats kill wildlife in urban areas. What the hell do you think feral cats survive on? We are justified in being a little paranoid, because of the damage that occurs. And you say “they think that feral cats are killing native wildlife”.
Twenty years ago I had a Burmese cat called Nimrod because of his hunting instincts. He killed numerous native birds (in the dozens) and wiped out an entire nest of juvenile Blue Tongue lizards. This was all in the confines of our garden. We put a bell on him, and it made no difference. I think bells only serve to send a cat insane. This is firm data that you say doesn’t seem to exist. And no, feral cats do not grow to the size of big cats (don’t know where you got that from) but they can be bigger, probably as a result of Darwin’s survival of the fittest, or the feast of wildlife on offer. There are no native predatory cats in Australia.
The closest was the Tasmanian Tiger (not a Feline but a marsupial, and restricted to Tasmania only) which we managed to kill off completely in the 1930’s. “Who caused the feral cat problem in Australia?” Well we did of course, just as it is in every country of the world, including yours. There is not a generalised acceptance of cruelty to feral cats, nor the irresponsible behaviour of some people. Irresponsible behaviour is as hard to stamp out as the feral cat population, and sadly, the ignorance of people, particularly those who publicly spout ill-informed information on the web, whilst purporting to be knowledgeable. It’s the latter that concerns me deeply - people who are completely and utterly ignorant of Australian Fauna and habitats saying that we should have yet another introduced animal here. An animal that is much bigger, and only a few generations down from being completely wild.
Australia may appear to be a robust land, but indeed it is very fragile. It may be more than 31 times the area of the United Kingdom, but the great majority is desert (stupid name because it’s full of life). Good God man, have you lost your senses? The bloody British brought Sugar Cane with it’s associated pests, and they became a problem. So Cane Toads were brought in to control the pests, and they became an ENORMOUS problem. Now we MUST find a solution to the Cane Toad because our native fauna is at great risk from them. They are highly poisonous, but our predators don’t know that. Foxes were brought in so the British could continue their appalling traditional of hunting (isn’t that cruel btw?). Sparrows, Indian Mynahs, Starlings all displaced native birds. The list is enormous.
Oh yeah, and the British tried very hard to wipe out the indigenous human population (except that they were not regarded as human). Fortunately they didn’t succeed, and we now have the opportunity to learn from their incredible wealth of knowledge. When it comes to Savannahs, we are just not willing to take the risk, no matter how small. And why should we, just to satisfy some wealthy cat fanciers? It’s absolutely ludicrous. Then I learn that you are an (apparently) learned solicitor. I just shake my head in disbelief that an intelligent person can put such tripe in the public domain. It is my belief that you would do your public reputation a very big favour by deleting the green section (above) from your website. Certainly (and very fortunately) you will never have any influence on getting the magnificent Savannahs into this country, so why make yourself look like an ill-informed and ignorant fool?
I have sent this to the President of the World League for Protection of Animals, Halina Thompson. It was from her that we acquired our kittens. She is extremely active and knowledgeable, and may be able to supply you with some references to the problem of feral cats in this country. You may then be able to make informed comments. HALINA: link to the article in question, scroll down two thirds of the way http://www.pictures-of-cats.org/savannah-cat.html Brett Gregory Katoomba NSW Australia
Short Response: I stand by what I have said. It was meant to be provocative. Brett, you seem to be defending Australia. You do this on several occasions. I have no opinions on Australia so there is no need to throw mud at England - it is irrelevant. I criticise England as much or more than Australia! I have a neutral stance in relation to Australia. I am simply commenting on a specific aspect of Australian behavior. You appear to be far too sensitive to an English person criticising Australia. This by the way seems typical of Australians. You say that feral cats are a massive problem but do not quote any studies to support that. You simply recite a story about your domestic cat. This is not knowing that there is a problem. This is so typical of angry people like you. You throw mud everywhere but it is totally unsupported by valid sound studies. And please don't come back with Australian studies because they are often politically motivated or funded, in my opinion. Only in certain parts of Australia and America can people legally shoot feral cats, stray cats and even domestic cats that have strayed and Bengal cat shot. This is cruel especially when, as you agree, people caused the feral cat "problem". TNR is the only current way and responsible cat caretaking. In my opinion, people cause a far greater loss of wildlife than cats in Australia. People should get their act together first and take responsibility for their actions. This should take the form of enforcing better cat caretaking etc. not slaughtering and abusing the cat. It is high time Australians looked at themselves and their actions when deciding what to do about the feral cat rather than attacking the cat who is the victim of poor human behavior.
Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong to Savannah Cat Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong - Note about the photograph: this picture is published with the permission of A1 Savannahs. I am pretty sure that theage.com.au which has published the same picture has not obtained the same permission. How many Google Blogger sites do you know with an Alexa ranking that this one has?
Update 4th January 2020! From Michael Bates and Australian:
Like Mr Gregory I am Australian. However I agree completely with everything you said about the Savannah cat, the human hypocrisy and that, if control of feral cats is beneficial, TNR should be mandatory rather than the current cruel practices. The Savannah cat is a beautiful breed and there is no reason to ban it.
It is just a further manifestation of the pathetic and hypocritical attitude of many Australian authorities toward cats. Their hostility and paranoia with regard to cats in this country is palpable. Local authorities even pass laws to confine domestic cats in suburban areas indoor or in backyard cages when they are a realistic threat only to introduced European mice and rats. The occasional opportunistic predation on native birds that generates so much hysteria is not honestly comment worthy when domestic cats are ill equipped to compete to any significant degree with the predation on native birds by native and introduced birds. Further their killing technique of throwing their prey against solid surfaces until its neck is broken (or it is otherwise fatally injured) is well adapted to mice and rats. However, even when circumstances converge to enable domestic cats to catch a bird, this throwing through the air is not always successful for killing prey with wings.
I have no doubt that creating adversity for native species by clearing vegetation rich coastal land for human purposes thus forcing them out into more sparsely vegetated areas would put a strain on native species generally including making them more vulnerable to predation. Likewise the human history of initiating bush fires not only creates a contemporaneous massive loss of native wildlife but, by affording a huge selective advantage to eucalypt trees over other native vegetation, it sets up future massive losses of native wildlife in future fires. Eucalypts are both a fire hazard and known in this country as 'widow makers' due to their habit of randomly dropping limbs (at the peril of anyone beneath it). Humans then put restrictions on clearing them when, in my humble opinion, the proliferation of eucalypts caused by humans should be reversed and they (with the exception of the solitary species that koalas can feed on) should be cleared and replaced with less environmentally dangerous native vegetation. These human caused problems for native wildlife are not the fault of the cat and do not justify ill treatment.
I would add that, while I can no longer find the reference, I recall reading a scholarly article many years ago that pointed out that Australian Aboriginal people not only contended that cats predated white settlers but that the fact was a part of their law. In other words cats were already a part of the ecosystem when white settlers arrived rather than being a recent feral introduction that represented an immediate grave inherent crisis (cf. a threat that is an artifact of recent human activity). Of course no one listens to original Australians in spite of their intimate knowledge of the country from venerable ancient experience. That is why it took so many decades and further evidence to determine that Azaria Chamberlain was taken by a dingo even though the aboriginal tracker involved on the night of the disappearance gave that evidence at the trial. The jury obviously preferred the evidence of the white scientist who gave evidence of fetal blood in the Chamberlain's car (which later analysis proved to be a sound deadening compound) and bloody handprints on clothing (that later proved to be red sand).
I note Mr Gregory’s comment: “There are no native predatory cats in Australia. The closest was the Tasmanian Tiger (not a Feline but a marsupial, and restricted to Tasmania only) which we managed to kill off completely in the 1930’s.”
This highlights the fact that, even if the ubiquitous but questionable assumption that cats in the wild post dated white settlement is correct, it doesn't mean that cats have no place in the ecology. In the context that Tasmanian Tigers have been sighted and photographed on the mainland the corollary seems to be that cats would provide a comparable replacement in the ecological void created by humans wiping out or virtually wiping out Tasmanian Tigers (unverified sightings are still reported occasionally). I doubt that presence or absence of a pouch has much impact on their predation even if Mr Gregory feels the need to draw the distinction.
Given the problems caused by feral rabbits it is noteworthy that a study of feral cats on American islands (referred to in an article without reference) found that rabbits were 73 percent of their prey followed by European mice and then birds as did a study in semi arid New South Wales1 (actually 73 percent of the prey were juvenile rabbits and a further 8.3 percent were adult rabbits). A study from Macquarie Island2 found a similar preference as did a study of domestic and feral cats in rural Sweden3.
Thanks for your article. Just wanted you to know that not all Australians share Mr Gregory's opinion.
Footnotes (feel free to take these out if you think it is excessive for a blog comment.)
1.Catling, P.C. (1988). Similarities and contrasts in the diets of foxes, Vulpes vulpes, and cats, Felis catus, relative to fluctuating prey populations and drought. Aust. Wildl. Res., 15, 307-17.
2. Jones, E. (1977). Ecology of the feral cat, Felis catus (L.), (Carnivora: Felidae) on Macquarie Island. Australian Wildlife Research 4, 249-262.
3. Liberg, O. (1984). Food habits and prey impact by feral and house-based domestic cats in a rural; area in southern Sweden. Journal of Mammalogy 65, 424-432.