Millions of cats will be culled in an effort to help save other endangered species

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The Australian government has responded to recent criticism from Morrissey over plans to cull up to two million feral cats to help save endangered species.

The pledge was made in July by the country’s Federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, who said that reduced numbers of feral cats would “halt and reverse the threats to our magnificent endemic species”.

There are currently an estimated 20 million feral cats in the country, with the government hoping to reduce the figure by two million before 2020 by trapping, shooting and a new poison bait.

Last month, The Guardian reports, Morrissey described the cull as “idiocy” and said the cats were “smaller versions of Cecil the Lion”.

Morrissey said the Australian government was a “committee of sheep-farmers who have zero concerns about animal welfare or animal respect”.

He was joined in his criticism by Brigitte Bardot.

Now the Australian government has formally responded to Morrissey and Bardot through its threatened species commissioner, Gregory Andrews.

In letters seen by Guardian Australia, Andrews tells both: “I would like to commend you for your commitment to, and advocacy for, animals and their welfare.”

Andrews adds, however, that feral cats are an invasive species responsible for the extinction of at least 27 Australian mammals, such as the lesser bilby, desert bandicoot and large-eared hopping-mouse.

“We don’t want to lose any more species like these,” he wrote. “It is with this sentiment in mind that the Australian government has taken a stance on feral cats; for the protection of our native species that belong here.”

Andrews told The Guardian Australia: “I never thought I’d write to Brigitte Bardot. It’s an unusual situation. I’m glad people like them care about animal welfare and I care deeply about animal welfare too.”

“The threat to our wildlife are clear and feral cats are top of the list. We don’t hate cats but we don’t have a choice. We will do this as humanely as possible and we will reduce the net suffering of animals in Australia.”

“I sleep very well at night knowing what we are doing. Australians support this. Brigitte Bardot and Morrissey have a lack of understanding of Australia and what we are losing. They aren’t Australians, they aren’t experiencing the extinction crisis we have here.”

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