Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, and it’s estimated that approximately 70% of Australian households have at least one pet. We are therefore a nation that really appreciates our companion animals. Unfortunately, native animals don’t always get the same attention as domestic species – a permit to keep them is only required under certain circumstances - and in order to protect these important and highly valued species, there are some simple things we can do.
Responsible ownership is vitally important
Responsible animal ownership allows people to enjoy the presence of native birds and animals in their surroundings, in addition to keeping a domestic pet. Poor management of domestic animals however, can have a severely negative impact on native animal welfare, and the environment.
A significant problem is feral animals, many of which were brought to Australia as domestic pets, but have been allowed to become wild. Domestic animals that can no longer be kept as pets, need to be re-homed responsibly. If you cannot find a good home for an unwanted pet, check the options available through organisations such as the RSPCA and Animal Welfare League. They should never be released into the wild, for their own sake – as they will suffer unnecessarily and may not survive - but as well, for the sake of other animals.
Protect native wildlife from domestic pets
A variety of native animals, ranging from lizards and birds, to endangered species such as koalas and bandicoots, are potentially at risk from domestic pets in urban areas. Dogs can torment and kill native animals, and cats - being natural hunters by instinct - hunt a variety of animals including lizards, birds, possums, bats, reptiles and rodents. Regardless of whether pets have their own requirements of food and shelter met, their natural instincts regarding hunting behaviour will continue.
Owners are responsible for the responsible management of domestic animals. Encourage responsible pet ownership in your family and neighbourhood, by reporting suspected cruelty of uncontrolled animals. Don’t flush unwanted goldfish or other fish species down the toilet or release them into local waterways, as they can upset the natural balance and have an impact on native fish species.
Keep dogs under control, and cats indoor at night
Keep dogs on leashes in bushland or nature reserves where native animals are likely to be found. Dogs should be confined backyards when owners aren’t home to supervise them, and dogs that live in apartments should be exercised daily. All dogs should be trained properly to respond to the commands of their owners.
Cats should be kept indoors as much as possible or in a cat run, and particularly at dawn and dusk when their hunting instincts will be strongest. Well-fed cats are still a threat to other species and small native mammals, and birds are often targets at dawn and dusk when they are most active. Preventing cats from roaming also protects the cat from fights and subsequent infections, and disease to which they can be exposed. It also reduces the risk of your cat being hit by a car.
Conservation of habitats is of utmost importance
An important way to help threatened species is to protect their habitats in nature reserves, wilderness areas, and national parks, so that they can live without undue interference from humans and other animals. Protection of their habitats in less obvious places such as roadsides and farms is also very important.
Control introduced plants
Non-native plants are those that come from outside the local area, and as a result of their introduction, some bushland, beaches and reserves are now infested with invasive plants. Native plant species, which can be the diet of fauna, often cannot compete with these plants. Numerous environmental weeds come from domestic gardens and the seeds are sometimes transported into the bush by birds or the wind. Do not dump weeds in the bush, and plant plants that are native to the local area, rather than introduced plants.
What to do if you find an injured animal
Unfortunately, all wildlife including marsupials are at risk of being injured by domestic animals, vehicles, or through destruction of their habitat. If you find an injured or orphaned native animal call for assistance and ensure that you do not put yourself in danger in the process. Contact an organisation such as Fauna Rescue, or the RSPCA. Alternatively, contact us, as we provide free veterinary care to injured wildlife.
If you are unable to get immediate assistance for an injured animal, keep them in a warm and dark place away from other animals and people, until help arrives. Do not offer food to injured animals. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and wombats can become aggrieve when stressed, so exercise caution, and kangaroos over 15kg should not be approached at all. It’s advisable not to handle animals if you’re unfamiliar with them.
One of Australia’s great treasures is its unique and diverse animal species. They are often delightful visitors to our gardens, they draw visitors from around the world, and some such as the kangaroo are national icons. Their health relies largely on the health of our environment and the harmonious interrelationship of all species. With responsible management and public awareness, the needs of both domestic and native animals can be met.