"Curiosity" Kills The Cat, Saves Threatened Species

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The new national commissioner's priority is to save threatened species, with a fatal bait called "curiosity," which is designed to kill wild cats. Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced on July 2 that Gregory Andrews would be the new commissioner as part of a CSIRO-backed review of the terrible health of the indigene mammals.

Gregory Andrews will have the help of an expert panel which includes Professor Helene Marsh, Atticus Fleming, Rachel Lowry and Samantha Vine who are the chair of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, Head of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, director of wildlife conservation and science at Zoos Victoria and head of conservation for BirdLife Australia respectively.

Hunt said, "The commissioner's first act would be developing a list of priority actions to stop the speedy decline of the country's threatened species. As part of that the commissioner would champion the next stage of the development of the curiosity bait. We know feral cats kill millions of mammals every night. The curiosity bait has the potential to make a real difference to the protection and recovery of our native species."

The federal, Victorian, Western Australian environment department and a private biotech company have developed and trialled 'curiosity' for many years. Commercialisation and registration with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority is necessary for it to be rolled out widely.

The first complete assessment of the status of more than 400 local land and marine mammals was provided by an independent review. Fifty-six species and 36 subspecies are endangered with extinction because of feral cats that are a huge threat to the indigene mammals. Every night, 75 million native mammals are killed by wild cats, it was estimated.

A humane way to kill feral cats is the fatal bait which contains a toxin that stops flow of oxygen in the blood of the wild cat and it is placed into a piece of meat, resembling a sausage. It is being said that this bait can kill 80 per cent of the feral cats. 

Views of Experts

Chairman of the Western Australian Threatened Species Scientific Committee, Dr Andrew Burbidge: There would have to be restrictions on where the bait could be used, especially in urban areas where people kept cats as pets. Feral felines needed to be eliminated from the entire continent, something that was likely to be achievable only through a genetically engineered disease that killed or sterilised the pests.

Professor John Woinarski from Charles Darwin University: Trials of the bait were showing promise in many places. It's early days in the trials and it hasn't been demonstrated that it's completely harmless to other species but it's better than anything else going around.

Chief executive of Environmental Justice Australia, Brendan Sydes: Rather than a powerless commissioner, Australian environment laws needed to be strengthened. The commissioner role was not enshrined in law, their advice could be ignored and the position could be abolished any time that Mr Andrews took a position the government did not like. A radical new approach is needed to save our most vulnerable species yet the Threatened Species Commissioner will have no real power.

BirdLife Australia chief executive Paul Sullivan: A champion for threatened species in the government would help ensure recovery efforts and funding programs are more strategic.

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