Feral cats: killing 75 million native animals every night
‘‘... these feral cats are a terrible scourge, when we consider the vast numbers of the more rare, interesting, and beautiful members of our native fauna that are annually destroyed by them.’’ F Wood Jones, The Mammals of South Australia (1925)
Feral cats occur right across the continent in every habitat type including deserts, forests and grasslands. Total population estimates vary from 5 million to 18 million feral cats, with the Federal Government citing a figure of 18 million cats in its statutory Threat Abatement Plan. Each feral cat kills between 5-30 animals per day. While they appear to prefer small mammals, they also eat birds, reptiles and amphibians. Taking the lower figure in that range (five) – and multiplying it by a conservative population estimate of 15 million cats – gives a minimum estimate of 75 million native animals killed daily by feral cats. Some caution is needed in interpreting this figure as a surrogate for the overall impact of cats: for example, the invasion of cats has likely caused a profound restructuring of the faunal community including a reduction in the abundance of native predators. Some of the prey now taken by cats may previously have been taken by more abundant native predators. However, even allowing for this type of factor, it is clear that cats are playing a critical role in the decline of our native fauna. They are recognised as a primary cause of several early mammal extinctions and are identified as a factor in the current declines of at least 80 threatened species. Only a few months ago, feral cats decimated a population of Bilbies at Currawinya National Park. At Dryandra Woodland Reserve in Western Australia, cats have recently hunted the Numbat population to the brink of extinction.
What can we do to control cats? “Although total mainland eradication may be the ideal goal of a [Threat Abatement Plan], it is not feasible with current resources and techniques.” Feral Cat Threat Abatement Plan, Australian Government The only successful feral cat eradication programs in Australia have been carried out on islands or within mainland areas surrounded by a feral-proof fence. These include the following AWC sanctuaries: Faure Island (6,000 ha), Scotia (8,000 ha), Yookamurra (1,100 ha) and Karakamia (250 ha). Scotia contains the largest cat-free area on the mainland; in total, AWC manages more feral cat-free land on mainland Australia than any other organisation. Unfortunately, techniques such as baiting, trapping and shooting - which allow islands and fenced areas to be laboriously cleared of feral cats - are not currently effective at a landscape scale. Cats are difficult to locate and extremely wary, which makes trapping and shooting resource-intensive and impracticable. In addition, the removal of cats from one area is offset by immigration from adjacent areas. Baiting is also currently limited in effectiveness (cats do not readily take bait as they are live prey specialists; and baiting can have a significant impact on native species). Finally, the introduction of diseases (biological control) does not represent a viable option at this stage: for example, many of the diseases are already in the wild cat population.
We need your help to save our wildlife from feral cats We need your help in the battle to save our wildlife from feral cats. Please make a tax deductible donation to support: • Practical land management that will limit the impact of cats. • Strategic on-ground action including fencing and shooting. • Feral cat research designed to find a long-term solution to feral cats. Your donation will help protect native animals at risk from feral cats, such as the Bilby, the Mala and a host of our small northern mammals. For more information on how to donate, please see page 20 or the enclosed form.