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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Werribee Zoo, VIC: 22 January 2016: Threatened Species Strategy; feral cat eradication

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The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for the Environment


22 January 2016



Topics: Threatened Species Strategy, feral cat eradication

GREG HUNT: This just brings together three things. One is, it's the overall conservation movement of Australia and Zoos Victoria (inaudible) work we’re doing now, you and Rachael who is on our Threatened Species Advisory Panel, one of four key people, the Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews.

You are trying to oversee not just the reduction in threatened species damage, but the recovery of those species.

Albus is a living example of protecting whether it's penguins in Warrnambool, whether it's the eastern-barred bandicoot here, and then hopefully much more widely.

In that movement, Birdlife Australia has been right out at the forefront of that.

As part of that, we've set up the Threatened Species Strategy, and the Threatened Species Strategy has as its heart a Threatened Species Commissioner, a Threatened Species Hub, and then the funding programs.

And I think all up the figure now (inaudible) is that we've mobilised around $130 million. So it's serious funding.

The number one task is the feral cat eradication, and Gregory's job specification is to make sure that there is feral cat eradication.

But beyond that it's also the breeding and protection programs for particular species.

You're pioneering here. Birdlife I think gave the business model that we have adopted for - I remember when we first met, I looked at what you were doing and I thought there's nothing better than the way you were doing it.

So today there are a couple of announcements. There's $200,000 to support the work of Birdlife Australia in terms of doing the water bird studies and health checks and population work that complements those things that are being done.

I think we're hopeful that we might see some natives that have flown in from Siberia today when we get over to the Western Treatment Plant. So I think that's extremely important work.

We're also launching a frigate - a Christmas Island frigate bird recovery plan. This all complements the work.

And then more broadly there are 20 mammals and 20 birds that we've set out to recover, and today there will be eight additional mammals and birds.

In terms of the mammals you've got Gilbert's potoroo, we have the quoll, we have the work around the rufous wallaby, we have so many other different critical mammals.

And then we have, in terms of our birds, the cassowary, the cockatoo, and we also of course have the famous swift parrot, so they're some of them.

Each of those mobilises funds, and so for example with the Gilbert's potoroo we're working with the West Australian Government, we're bringing together the National Environmental Science Programme, and we're providing funds under the Green Army. So that's an example of how these things work.

You're right at the forefront. I want to thank you for what you're doing in announcing the next stage in terms of our mammals, and the next stage in terms of our birds.

We're doing what Paul and Rachael and others have advised us to do - go after the feral cats, but at the same time identify those animals which are most at risk and which can give the greatest return for immediate action.

I don't know Gregory if you want to say anything.

GREGORY ANDREWS: Thank you Minister, and thank you for approving these new targets today which really bring together the whole package of the Threatened Species Strategy, and the strategy now is moving into the implementation phase.

The Minister said that we've mobilised $131 million since this new model was approached, and so there are another 500 projects occurring now across Australia like this one that's using guardian dogs funded by the Australian Government in collaboration with Zoos Victoria to guard the critically endangered bandicoot that we actually once thought was extinct here on mainland Australia.

So the Threatened Species Strategy is putting the Minister's commitment when he appointed me into action.

We're tackling feral cats, we're recovering our birds, we're recovering our mammals, and we're also focussing on plants.

And I can say that in my 23 years of public service, it's definitely the most ambitious and satisfying thing that I've been involved in.

GREG HUNT: If feral cats are whirling tsunamis of death, I think Gregory’s a whirling tsunami of life.

ZOOS VICTORIA SPOKESPERSON: Thank you for involving us in your recovery programs and your support, and we're absolutely committed to saving species and preventing extinction. So importantly there's the conversation work that we're a part of, but if you think about visitors and 2 million plus visitors within the whole

state of Victoria that we can connect with, we want to make sure that everyone's involved in the recovery, so thank you for making us part of that.

GREG HUNT: Yeah. I mean, the transformation that's occurred in the Zoos Victoria system is extraordinary. You've gone from being zoos to practical conservation centres that happen to have large numbers of visitors.

And when you look across from Werribee to Melbourne Zoo to Healesville, each of them are deeply engaged in the practical conservation work.

So thank you for what you do. I don't want to hold anybody up. It's more a chance to formally launch it, and then to hear privately as we sit down some of the things you are doing.

JOURNALIST: How successful do you think it'll be in eradicating, was it two million feral cats by 2020?

GREG HUNT: Look, I am very confident that we'll get there. The big approach is the two main humane baiting systems of Eradicat and Curiosity.

We're in the process of rolling out one and developing the other.

What's interesting is that they're humane on the one hand, but very effective on the other.

And the Australian Mammal Action Plan, which was developed by Professor John Woinarski, said there are threats to Australia's mammals, but far and away the number one threat is the feral cat population and it's - the bad news is it's the number one threat, the good news is it's something that we can physically address...

JOURNALIST: How many cats...

GREGORY ANDREWS: If I could just add to the Minister's comments there. The feral cat culling is occurring right now as we speak.

And just this week I was in the field with Australian Government-funded workers who were humanely culling cats.

And they also told me that as a result of those cat culls, the pygmy possum juvenile population was increasing, which means that predation pressures - the reduced predation pressure is helping the breeding success of that species.

And they've also monitored an increased number of bandicoots in the same location.

So we're dropping the baits from aeroplanes to protect critically endangered parrots and small marsupials and we have dogs similar to Albus that are sniffing out feral cats so that they can be humanely euthanased to save these remarkable animals that define us as a nation.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask what does humanely euthanased mean?

GREG HUNT: Well, I'll let you define that.

GREGORY ANDREWS: Thank you, Minister. So the feral cat task force that the Minister established to implement these targets, and which I chair, adheres to the RSPCA's principles for culling feral species, which is humane, effective, and justifiable. And I should emphasise...

GREG HUNT: What it means is there are no slow deaths from poison. They either go to sleep if it's a poison or, frankly, they shoot them with...

GREGORY ANDREWS: The Curiosity bait puts the cats to sleep. What's also important though is every feral cat that we cull, that saves 1400 native animals over a year from a cruel death because feral cats, the science shows, kill at least four native animals a day.

So if you do the maths, that's 1400 native animals per annum killed by feral cats.

So culling feral cats has a massive net humane effect by saving our wildlife from harm.

GREG HUNT: Alright, thank you.