Feral (and not so feral) cats: The good, the bad and the ugly

Yass Landcare Group recently held an informative meeting with feral cat expert Dr Tony Buckmaster from University of Canberra about feral cats in the area.

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Feral (and not so feral) cats: The good, the bad and the ugly

Yass Landcare Group recently held an informative meeting with feral cat expert Dr Tony Buckmaster from University of Canberra about feral cats in the area.

The issue

Feral cats are one of the few invasive species that can be both a despised killer of native animals and a beloved family pet. One of the biggest challenges when trying to manage feral cats is the fact that both domestic and feral cats are the same species. This means that anything that impacts feral cats will also impact pet cats.

There are few methods that can be used to manage feral cats over a large area. Shooting, trapping and exclusion fencing are expensive and time consuming and generally can only be done over a smaller area. Poison baiting can be used over a larger area but baits must be surface laid. Additionally, cats prefer live prey and generally only scavenge (or take baits) when food stressed so timing of baiting programs is important.

Unlike rabbits, there are no biological control agents for feral cats. The diseases that currently impact cats are slow acting and would not be humane for use as a biological control.

Pet cats can also cause problems as they are subsidised predators. They get enough food so only hunt for the fun of it if they are allowed to roam outside. As they do not move on like a feral cat when prey populations decline, they can effectively drive a local population of birds or mammals to extinction through continuing to hunt and kill them until no more exist.

The solution

“What can we as a group do?” - Tony's answer was to continue to do what you are doing. One way of reducing the impact of feral cats is to give native animals more cover and habitat to live in. Re-vegetating riparian zones and farm areas is a good way to increase the availability of suitable habitat as is leaving some flood debris around to give shelter to small mammals. There is good evidence that providing improved habitats can help native animals both evade predation and improve their population numbers by providing shelter and areas where they can get safe access to food.

 

The impact

Just because a species appears in a cat’s diet it doesn’t mean that they are actually having an impact on that species. If we focus on those species that the cats are actually having an impact on, we can do more good than trying to manage feral cats across all of Australia. Other factors such as land clearing, habitat change and the introduction of other species (including both feral and domestic animals) can have a compounding impact on native animal populations and cat predation may just be the final straw.

Learnings

Images

Key facts

  • Both pet and feral cats are the same species - anything that impacts feral cats will also impact pet cats.
  • Cats prefer live prey and generally only take baits when food stressed so timing of baiting programs is important.
  • One way to reduce the impact of feral cats is to improve habitats for native animals.

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