from The Electronic Telegraph

ISSUE 2081                            Sunday 4 February 2001

Murderous cats 'need curfew at night - or else'

By David Harrison, Environment Correspondent

A curfew for the cat

A BBC wildlife presenter has called for licences and a curfew on domestic cats, modelled on an Australian system where wardens patrol the streets and shoot any cats still out after dark.

Chris Packham, the animal-loving writer and photographer who presented The Really Wild Show, described cats as "sly, greedy, insidious murderers" which make him want to "reach for my shotgun". Mr Packham, 39, who admits he is a "cat-hater", said that he shot cats that ventured into his garden with a high-powered water pistol. "If I used a real gun it might not go down too well with the neighbours."

He said that he wanted all cats to be licensed to keep their numbers down. The cost could be nominal, he said, but the licences would not be granted unless owners produced proof that the cats had been fully inoculated, at a cost of up to £180.

He said: "We have softened up since the days when we used to drown kittens. But we have got to face up to the fact that the devastation of our wildlife by these serial killers is a serious problem that has to be tackled. Cat owners have got to be more responsible about keeping their cats inside at night when most of the killing takes place. Otherwise a curfew may be the only answer. In Australia cats were having a terrible impact on wildlife, especially marsupials, and the curfew made a big difference."

Mr Packham calls for the licensing system in a book, Back Garden Nature Reserve, to be published next month. He said: "People will think twice about taking a cat if they have to pay for inoculations, and it might put paid to those advertisements offering kittens 'free to a good home'." The licensing system should be backed by "a vigorous programme of neutering", he said.

Last week a report by the Mammal Society said that Britain's nine million cats killed an estimated 275 million animals a year, including rare water voles, dormice, house sparrows, squirrels, bats, birds, frogs, toads and newts. The killer cats spend up to half an hour toying with their victims before killing them and bringing them back to the "trophy mat", it said.

The British Trust for Ornithology backed a curfew. Chris Mead, the trust's head, said: "Things cannot go on the way they are. There will have to be a recognition of what cats are doing to our bird populations." Mr Packham, who has been filming a wildlife series in Africa, added: "Domestic cats do not kill for food. Most are well fed by their owners and kill because they are instinctive hunters and they enjoy the chase. But they are having a terrible impact on so many other animals."

Animal welfare charities backed the call for more neutering but said licensing would be "unworkable" and condemned the shooting of cats after dark. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said a curfew would encourage an "anti-cat culture" in which cruelty to cats was acceptable.

A spokesman for Cats Protection, Britain's largest cat welfare charity, said: "We already deal with a lot of cats which have been shot with shotguns and air rifles and it is very unpleasant. When high-profile media people talk about shooting cats it can give legitimacy to acts of cruelty towards cats and other animals. We seem to be forgetting that humans do far more damage to wildlife with development, pollution and modern farming practices."

Derek Conway, the charity's chief executive, said: "Humans should stop playing God with nature. The feline's instinct is to hunt and it is wrong for humans to attempt to intervene in that natural order. Part of the charm of a cat
                           is its natural behaviour. We support keeping cats in at night because the
                           greatest threat to them is the motor car."

                           Mr Packham advised people bothered by cats to lobby for a collar with two
                           bells - a creeping cat can silence a single bell - or a collar with a silicon chip
                           that gives off an electronic squeal audible to prey. Cats Protection said it
                           opposed collars because they could get caught on branches or railings.

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