The Practical Guide to the Control of Feral Cats

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All species of wild cats prefer live prey and will rarely consume carrion except during droughts or when they are debilitated. Cats Felis catus have a history of association with humankind dating back thousands of years. They have accompanied seafarers since the earliest times for vermin control, companionship and food Jones ; Dickman and in this way the species has been distributed to virtually all inhabited parts of the globe as well as to many uninhabited islands.

The first recorded instance of cats being brought to Australia is by English settlers in the 18th century. Cats may have arrived much earlier via trading routes from South-East Asia, shipwrecks or visits by European ships to the west coast Baldwin but the available evidence for these origins is scant. Cats were deliberately released into the wild during the 19th century to control rabbits and mice Rolls and feral cats are now found in all habitats, except some of the wettest rainforests, from the Torres Strait across the breadth of the mainland and Tasmania to sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.

There is clear evidence that feral cats have caused the decline and extinction of native animals on islands through predation Copley ; van Rensburg and Bester Dramatic recoveries of species on islands after the removal of feral cats is evidence of their impact Dickman On the mainland, predation by feral cats is thought to threaten the continued survival of native species such as the eastern barred bandicoot in Victoria which currently persist in low numbers Dickman Feral cats have been shown to thwart re-introduction programs for endangered species such as the numbat, golden bandicoot, burrowing bettong, mala and bilby in the arid and semi-arid zones of Western Australia and the Northern Territory Johnson ; Gibson et al.

For each of the processes listed in Schedule 3 of the Act, a nationally coordinated threat abatement plan must be prepared and implemented. The Act prescribes the content of a threat abatement plan and the mechanisms by which plans are to be prepared, approved and published. The relevant sections of the Act are reproduced in the Appendix.

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In recent years the impact of cat predation on native Australian wildlife has become a prominent public issue with strongly polarised opinions, especially where domestic cats are implicated. Cats can be grouped into categories according to how and where they live. The definitions and categories used vary widely in the published literature and the following terms are used for the purposes of this plan:.

Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats

None of their needs are satisfied intentionally by people. They may depend on some resources provided by humans, but are not owned. Most of their needs are supplied by their owners. These categories of cats in effect reflect a continuum and there is evidence that individuals may move from one category to another Moodie ; Newsome In a given situation, the category of cats that causes the most damage to wildlife needs to be identified. Management actions may differ according to the different categories of cats causing the damage. Where domestic cats are the primary cause, management is likely to concentrate on owners and consist of education and legislation to promote responsible ownership.

For feral cats the requirement is to reduce numbers or inhibit predation using mechanical, chemical or biological methods. The management of stray cats often requires a combination of technical and social approaches. Concern about predation on wildlife by domestic cats developed in Victoria during investigations into the decline of the eastern barred bandicoot Brown It has since become a national issue among cat owners, veterinarians, conservationists and wildlife managers. Results published in suggested that domestic cats in South Australia killed an average of 26 animals per year, many of them native birds Paton In urban areas of Victoria, traumatised small mammals are reported as usually being victims of cat attack Dowling et al.

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The quality of data on predation by domestic cats is poor and does not provide information about the impact on populations of prey species Barratt Data obtained by written or telephone questionnaire have a number of identified areas of potential bias Manly Too much reliance is placed upon the memory of cat owners, their ability to identify prey animals and their willingness to participate fully in a survey. Also, it may not be justifiable to assume that any small animal brought home by a cat has been preyed upon by that cat. There are other possible causes of injury or debilitation to small animals in urban areas.

Management of cats in cities is primarily an issue of urban amenity or animal welfare rather than an issue of wildlife conservation. Animals which live in cities, whether native or introduced, are generally common, adaptable species. With few exceptions, rare or threatened species do not occur in or near cities and are not directly at risk from domestic cats. Nevertheless, domestic cats in cities occur in very high densities because their requirements are primarily met by their human owners.

As a consequence, even if each individual cat is taking only a small number of prey, the sum of that predation may depress populations of desirable urban wildlife. The responsibility for managing domestic cats ultimately rests with their owners. Victoria has enacted the Domestic Feral and Nuisance Animals Act which requires cat owners to register their animals and gives councils the power to set fees and take remedial action when landowners experience problems with wandering cats.

New South Wales has initiated the development of legislation to promote responsible ownership and improved welfare of companion animals. Moves by some State and local governments to control cats present a range of opportunities to measure the conservation benefits to be derived from managing urban cats Tidemann, Answers to questions surrounding domestic cat management are likely to be gained through rigorous monitoring and analysis of various management regimes that are currently being put in place.

Suitably designed experiments could determine whether the enacting and enforcement of laws to control domestic cats leads to desirable outcomes for urban and peri-urban wildlife. However, because of the specific nature of the listing of predation by feral cats, the management of domestic cats will not be addressed in this plan.

Irresponsible cat owners, and those who feed unowned cats, play a major role in maintaining populations of stray cats in urban and rural areas. Encouraging changes in the behaviour of these people has the potential to significantly reduce the numbers of free-ranging stray cats where these are causing damage. Control of unowned cats in these areas is primarily being promoted by groups such as the RSPCA, in order to address significant animal welfare concerns.

Capturing, sterilising and releasing is seen as an effective approach to managing colonies of stray cats in urban Europe Hammond and has been used in parts of Adelaide Pierson This approach has been promoted to achieve goals of cat welfare and enhanced urban amenity. No benefits to wildlife are derived from this approach, as the number of predators remains unchanged. Any programs to manage stray cats in urban and peri-urban areas should be subject to rigorous review to determine their effectiveness in achieving wildlife conservation goals.

Sound evidence that feral cats exert a significant effect on native wildlife throughout the mainland is lacking Dickman ; Jones ; Wilson et al. Feral cats have occupied tropical Australia, Tasmania and Kangaroo Island for at least a century and yet these areas have had virtually no extinctions, or none that could be attributed directly to feral cat predation. Yet there are a number of vulnerable and endangered species which are susceptible to feral cat predation in these areas.

The nature and extent of the threat posed to native wildlife by feral cats nevertheless remains poorly understood and the evidence relating to their impacts is largely inferred. Feral cats are mobile, especially during periods of food shortage Newsome and can disperse widely. The feral cat population is self-sustaining and may breed at any time of the year under favourable conditions. Feral cats occupy virtually all Australian environments and the damage they cause to wildlife is likely to vary widely across this spectrum of habitats.

A review of recovery plans approved under the Act, and others in draft form, has identified feral cats as a confirmed threat or a perceived threat to a large number of listed endangered and vulnerable threatened species Table 1. This threat abatement plan focuses primarily on managing the impact of feral cats. In general, listed species which are susceptible to cat predation are found in remote parts of the country from which domestic and stray cats are absent. It is generally accepted that improvements in the management of domestic and stray cats are necessary to reduce recruitment to the feral cat population Copley , but there is little research demonstrating that populations of feral cats are significantly bolstered by such recruitment.

Feral cats have self-sustaining populations and there is no evidence that they need recruitment from other categories to maintain their numbers over the long term. Feral cats occur on Commonwealth land such as Department of Defence properties and in Commonwealth-managed national parks. On a national scale, however, management of feral cats on Commonwealth land is only a small part of the larger picture of conserving endangered or vulnerable species threatened by cat predation. State and Territory wildlife agencies have a long history of practical on-ground management of feral cats and it is largely through their efforts, often supported by Commonwealth programs, that major technical and strategic advances have been made.

More recently, private sector and community initiatives have also contributed to feral cat control activities. Table 1. Species listed on Schedule 1 of the Endangered Species Protection Act for which cats are a known or perceived threat. Known Threat. Common Name. Perceived Threat. Spotted-tailed Quoll or Yarri North Queensland subspecies. While key threatening processes are listed because of their impacts on listed threatened species, impacts from cat predation are not restricted to these species. Best practice management of feral cats must involve not only action to reduce the threat to targeted threatened species, but to all native species which may be threatened by feral cat predation.

Fundamental to the approach taken in this plan is the recognition that feral cats cannot be eradicated over most of their Australian range using current techniques and financial resources. However, it is feasible to restrict their distribution and abundance. Eradication of feral cats has been achieved on a number of Australian islands Copley ; Burbidge , in New Zealand Veitch ; Burbidge and in the sub-Antarctic Bester This usually requires a sustained effort using a range of conventional and biological techniques.

For example, in Feline panleucopenia was introduced to sub-Antarctic Marion Island by South African wildlife authorities to control feral cats van Rensburg et al. The disease caused a significant reduction in the island population, but feral cats were not eradicated until after a concerted effort combining trapping, baiting and shooting Bester Existing methods are not suitable for broadscale control of feral cats over most of Australia.

However, it is possible to remove feral cats from small areas and to manage the effects of feral cats in localised areas with variable levels of success. Abatement of the threat that feral cats pose must initially be undertaken in discrete, manageable areas, selected according to national priorities. Feral cat control will have to continue for the foreseeable future and therefore must make the best use of available resources.

The ongoing costs of feral cat control will, in most cases, be high. This plan delineates in broad terms the scope for national action and the apportionment of Commonwealth resources. It is intended that the plan will lead to changes in managing the impact of feral cats on endangered species, producing a more focused and strategic approach to reducing those impacts. In accordance with the requirements of the Act this plan must be reviewed at intervals of no more than five years.

At the end of the first five years, on-ground action will have increased protection for endangered species at high priority sites, and new techniques for controlling feral cat impacts will have been tested. The plan will also have assisted in documenting significant advances in knowledge, techniques and practice for abating the threat from feral cat predation.

Towards the end of the period, the review required by the legislation will examine the plan, the supporting technical documents and the success or otherwise of management actions undertaken. Recommendations from the review will then be used to prepare another threat abatement plan for the next five-year phase.

During each five-year phase, knowledge will grow and efficiency and effectiveness of threat abatement actions should improve through information from well-monitored programs. The success of the plan will be dependent on the long-term commitment of resources by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments, private landholders and community groups. The activities and priorities under the threat abatement plan will need to evolve with, and adapt to, changes as they occur.

By taking this measured approach, recognising the limitations and opportunities that exist, and ensuring that field experience and research are applied to further improve management of cats, the threat abatement plan process will ensure a responsible use of public resources and give the best outcome for wildlife threatened by cat predation.

The success of this threat abatement plan will depend on a high level of cooperation between all key stakeholders, including landholders, community groups, local government, State and Territory conservation and pest management agencies, and the Commonwealth Government and its agencies. Success will only be achieved if all participants are prepared to allocate adequate resources to achieving effective on-ground control of feral cats at critical sites, improving the effectiveness of control programs and measuring and assessing outcomes.

Measures to address the key threatening process. Eradication of feral cats is often suggested as an attractive option because, once achieved, it requires no further commitment of resources other than for monitoring. They further state that it is the preferred option only when:. These conditions cannot be met for feral cats on mainland Australia or in Tasmania at present.

Eradication of feral cats is well beyond the capacity of available techniques and resources because the species is so well established across such a vast area. In contrast, eradication of a population of feral cats from an island may be feasible provided a persistent campaign can be mounted Veitch Historically, a range of techniques has been used in attempts to control feral cats, including shooting, trapping, poison baiting, fumigation and hunting. Control techniques, both those currently available and those being developed, are briefly reviewed below.

Available methods are generally expensive, labour intensive, require continuing management effort and can be effective only in limited areas. Feral cats have been hunted for their fur, which was mostly exported, but no skins or furs have been exported since Ramsay, This export was low volume and subject to fluctuations according to the value of skins Ramsay, Commercial hunting will only harvest a target species as long as it is commercially viable to do so.

Social considerations also strongly influence such activities, even when commercially viable. Where the desired benefit of commercial harvesting is the protection of threatened species from predation, market variability is unlikely to result in controls being applied in a consistent manner. Newsome et al. As a control technique its value lies in being applied for an extended period, or being timed to take advantage of opportunities that expose feral cats to such control actions, eg.

Feral cats are killed by recreational shooters but the magnitude of the impact on feral cat or prey populations is unknown. The South Australian Department of Environment and Natural Resources uses recreational hunters for controlling feral goats and to complement other methods of fox and feral cat control in some areas T. Naismith pers. Their use is regulated by a code of conduct and collectively by the hunters as a club. In identifying shooting, when carried out humanely, as an acceptable control technique, it should be noted that it is labour intensive and currently there is no code of practice for the humane destruction of feral cats.

Development of a code is identified as an action for this plan. Historically, a number of trap types have been used to capture feral cats including steel-jawed traps and neck snares. These trapping methods are widely recognised as being inhumane and of little use in broad scale control programs. Soft catch traps have an adjustable pan that tensions the trap to prevent lighter non-target species from being caught.

Cage traps are also widely used, but are generally ineffective for trapping feral cats.

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  • Cage traps have, however, been effective in trapping stray and domestic cats around rubbish dumps and in nature reserves close to urban development Edwards pers. To successfully trap feral cats, the lure or attractant chosen is most important. Research on a number of lure types is currently being undertaken see below. Trapping as a control method is labour intensive and is only recommended where eradication is the objective, such as on islands or small areas. Trained dogs have been used in the management of endangered species for tracking individual members of the species for capture and relocation Best and Powlesland, , as experimental predators to condition native captive-bred animals J.

    Short pers. Indigenous Australians are able to offer unique skills in the management of natural areas, particularly in central and northern Australia where traditional skills are still taught and Aboriginal culture is less affected than in southern and eastern Australia. Aboriginal people are able to interpret the landscape and give insights into the natural history of certain species.

    In particular, some people are able to track individual animals. Tracking is a labour intensive technique but the time and expense may be offset by the benefit in being able to remove particular problem animals from the predator population. By selectively removing a few individual cats, such as large, experienced males specialising in hunting particular rare species, the primary agents of damage may be eliminated allowing wildlife colonies to survive even though there are other feral cats around Gibson et al.

    Financial Incentives. Reviews of the history of pest management conclude that, in general, subsidies and bounties have rarely been effective in reducing damage by pest animals Braysher , Saunders et al. As a general policy it is not cost-effective to seek to raise the level of recreational or professional hunting or trapping of feral cats on a broad scale by payment of bounties, subsidies or other similar artificial market incentives.

    Where private land adjoins or contains important wildlife habitat, assistance or encouragement to landowners and the development of incentives to promote feral cat control on private land may be appropriate, especially if the property forms part of a buffer zone to protect threatened species populations.

    Baiting is usually the cheapest and most effective broad scale technique for controlling the numbers of inconspicuous small and medium-sized pest animals. Baiting techniques for feral cats currently appear much less effective than techniques for baiting dogs and foxes. This may reflect the fact that, until recently, little research had been conducted on control strategies for feral cats.

    Baiting feral cats is difficult as they are often found in low densities, can have large home ranges, are disinclined to feed on carrion except during drought or during food shortages, and are naturally wary. A successful feral cat bait must be able to be detected by, and be attractive to, feral cats particularly where they occur at low densities.

    The timing of a baiting program is a critical element in the successful baiting of feral cats Short et. Algar pers. Applied Biotechnologies in an unpublished report to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, reported that a range of baits tested did not appear to be significantly more effective than commercial cat food as attractants. Shea announced the development by the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management of a bait which is attractive to cats, but this bait has yet to be widely evaluated.

    Development of an effective baiting technique, and the incorporation of a suitable toxin for feral cats, is a high priority as it is most likely to yield an operational and cost-effective method to reduce cat numbers in strategic areas. The use of cyanide in Australia for pest control is currently illegal except under permit for research. Algar and Kinnear developed the use of cyanide as a research tool for studies of fox ecology. The technique has also been used to assess bait preferences of feral cats Friend and Algar ; Algar and Sinagra This was a consequence of the speed with which the poison acted and was seen as being humane.

    An ejector system to deliver the poison was also developed, but this remains a tool for research and has not been licensed for general use. The capacity to use this technique on feral cats has not been evaluated. Development of a felid-specific toxin has been identified as a priority for feral cat control. The development of such a toxin must have due regard for humaneness, species specificity and a suite of other issues. An appropriate delivery system needs to be developed that is capable of minimising non-target exposure; meets the needs of agencies in applying the baiting system over chosen areas; and is cheap, safe and easy to deploy.

    Application of such a system will need to be complemented by an education and awareness program. Preliminary studies by the Victorian Institute of Animal Science Department of Natural Resources and Environment have identified a possible felid-specific toxin. Trial results demonstrate that the toxin is effective and observations made by a veterinary surgeon on the clinical signs of the toxicosis suggest that the toxin is humane. With Commonwealth support, the Victorian Institute of Animal Science and the WA Wildlife Research Centre Department of Conservation and Land Management , are undertaking complementary laboratory and field studies to investigate the feasibility of using this toxin.

    Future development of such a toxin will have due regard to the assessment of pain and the humaneness of the toxin in its application as a control technique. Researchers within Australia are currently examining audio and visual attractants that will lure feral cats to baits. Bait additives that enhance smell and taste are also being evaluated. Certain lures being examined may also be used to trap cats and monitor cat abundance. Feral cats and foxes are known to use rabbit warrens as dens or shelter. They are therefore vulnerable to techniques such as fumigation.

    Native wildlife such as goannas, other reptiles and small native mammals also use rabbit warrens and may be at risk of exposure to the fumigants. Any use of fumigants would have to take account of the risk to native species. Aside from the risk to native species there are serious concerns about the animal welfare implications of using certain fumigants.

    Williams et al. The risk to operators using fumigants such as chloropicrin is also recognised in terms of stringent handling requirements under occupational health and safety guidelines. In the viral disease Feline panleucopenia, also known as feline parvovirus and feline enteritis, was introduced to sub-Antarctic Marion Island by South African wildlife authorities to control feral cats van Rensburg et al.

    The disease caused a significant reduction in the island's cat population, but feral cats were not eradicated until after a concerted effort combining trapping, baiting and shooting Bester The reason for the initial success of biological control is that the cats had no immunity to the disease. Feline panleucopenia occurs in feral cat populations on all large land masses including mainland Australia and Tasmania. This disease causes high mortality in non-immune populations, but confers immunity on survivors. Screening of blood samples in Australian feral cats indicates that there is widespread immunity to the disease Moodie This suggests that the disease is already circulating through feral cat populations and any control effect is already operating.

    For mainland situations this disease has little tactical value and its deliberate introduction to susceptible populations may be questioned as inhumane Copley , Moodie as well as being of concern to the legitimate pet trade. For Australia, it seems unlikely that there are any felid-specific pathogens that may be suitable as biological control agents, that is, any that are sufficiently virulent, humane and from which domestic cats can be protected Moodie Substantial efforts are being made at the Vertebrate Biocontrol Co-operative Research Centre to develop immunocontraceptive vaccines for several vertebrate pests, particularly foxes, rabbits and mice.

    If this venture is successful, it may be possible to apply the techniques to develop such a vaccine for feral cats. Currently there are no effective chemical sterilants which produce permanent sterility in cats Moodie A major benefit of the development of immunocontraceptive techniques is that they are humane. Broad scale control of cats using an immunocontraceptive vaccine, if one were developed, would be dependent upon the development of a suitable delivery mechanism for the vaccine and appropriate approvals to release the vaccine into the wild.

    At present the most effective management technique for wildlife vulnerable to terrestrial predators, such as feral cats, relies on barriers. Translocations of threatened species and eradication of introduced predators on islands have been important strategies for wildlife conservation Burbidge Eradication of feral cats has been achieved on a number of Australian islands Copley , Burbidge , in New Zealand Veitch , Burbidge and in the sub-Antarctic Bester Where there are no suitable islands, fenced exclosures have been used to separate vulnerable species from introduced predators.

    A review of predator-proof fencing in Australia Coman and McCutchan has found that, although most fences are a significant barrier to foxes and feral cats, even the most elaborate can be breached. If breached, fences increase the vulnerability of endangered species by preventing their escape from the predator s. To minimise this risk, fencing should be combined with an integrated baiting and trapping program to reduce the frequency of challenge to the fence by incoming predators. The combination of fencing with a baiting and trapping program is an expensive option which is likely to be useful only for small areas or areas with specific characteristics, such as peninsulas.

    It may also affect movements of other wildlife, preventing their dispersal and interbreeding with other populations. Recent projects in Shark Bay, WA, have sought to use a combination of conventional control methods, natural water barriers and fencing to create large predator-free reserves on peninsulas Department of Conservation and Land Management Habitat Management.

    Although it is recognised that habitat fragmentation has the potential to deplete species richness Bennett and to increase the incursions of invasive species, the magnitude of the impact of this invasion is not well quantified May and Norton This behavioural difference has direct implications for the study and control of cats.

    Weed incursions and human activities, such as tree removal, alter the floristics and complexity of the vegetation Bennett Claridge et al. It has also been recognised that roads, in particular, affect small forest mammals, depending on the traffic volume, road surface, and activity and foraging patterns of the mammals Oxley et al.

    Components of the environment may be manipulated or managed in order to reduce the damage done by feral cats. Therefore, habitat management in itself represents a critical factor in feral cat control. Native animals may be more secure in structurally complex habitats Dickman so management of habitat to reduce fragmentation rehabilitation of fire trails, roads and clearings and to increase the density of vegetation perhaps by better managing fire and grazing may be effective in reducing the level of feral cat predation. This issue may need clarification to quantify the impacts of feral cats on native animals and make recommendations for future work in this area.

    In addition, the rabbit calicivirus disease RCD monitoring program may provide some answers on the response of predators to reduced rabbit densities. In developing an agreed approach to the management of the impacts of feral cats on threatened species or other native wildlife, a range of issues and constraints need to be considered. Convincing evidence that feral cats exert a significant effect on native wildlife on the mainland is scarce Dickman ; Jones ; Wilson et al.

    Feral cats have occupied tropical Australia, Tasmania and Kangaroo Island for at least a century. Although there are a number of vulnerable and endangered species which are susceptible to feral cat predation in these areas, there have been virtually no extinctions or none that could be attributed to feral cat predation,. The situation is complicated by land-use changes since European settlement, in particular the spread of pastoralism, land clearing and the removal of Aboriginal people and their fire regimes from arid and semi-arid desert, grasslands, shrublands and woodlands.

    Paltridge et al. Furthermore Paltridge et al. Landsberg et al. Anecdotal information confirms that predation occurs, but the impact on species or faunal assemblages has not been quantified. In addition, other introduced animals that have become feral have had significant impacts both on habitats and on native animals. As an example of the complexity of these interactions, the spread of rabbits has provided a ready food source for introduced predators such as feral cats and foxes, although some native species such as Wedge-tailed Eagles have also benefited.

    Predation is a feature of virtually all ecological systems. Raw estimates of the total number of prey animals taken by cats eg Paton ; Reark and studies of diet are of limited value in determining the ecological impact of the predation. Cat predation becomes a significant threat to native species only where the level of predation by cats exceeds the capacity of individual populations to replace themselves.

    Australia's pre-European fauna included a suite of native predators including large reptiles, raptorial birds, quolls and dingoes. The degree of threat posed by cat predation hinges upon:. Dramatic recoveries of species on islands after the removal of feral cats are evidence of their impact Dickman A significant impediment to answering this question is the technical difficulty of measuring and manipulating the numbers of feral cats. They are very difficult to detect and count and at present there are no effective techniques for their broad scale control.

    Although the damage to conservation values is unclear, there is sufficient concern among scientists, wildlife managers and the community to warrant further research and field trials to develop and improve methods for controlling feral cats in conjunction with measuring the benefits to wildlife.

    Although all feral cats prey on native animals, in areas where rabbits occur rabbits are the main prey item. In rabbit areas feral cats will prey upon native animals opportunistically, particularly when rabbit numbers decline Williams et al. There is good evidence that environments are made more suitable for feral cats by the presence of rabbits Taylor ; Newsome , as they are a preferred food item and create burrows that provide shelter for feral cats. Feral cat numbers have been observed to rise and fall with fluctuations in rabbit numbers Williams et al. Feral cats show a preference for young rabbits but are able to survive on alternative prey when rabbit populations decline Catling Impacts on alternative prey can be particularly severe in island situations such as Macquarie Island, where it has been suggested that winter nesting petrels are preyed upon when rabbit numbers are low Brothers In semi-arid New South Wales, Newsome et al.

    The response was most marked after about 14 months of continual predator removal. The study showed that, in semi-arid habitats, shooting predators can effectively release an introduced prey population from the suppressive effects of introduced predators. There are no comparable studies showing such a response in native prey populations and the design of this study did not allow the relative roles of feral cats and foxes to be differentiated.

    Dingoes and rabbits have been shown to influence the abundance of feral cats Williams et al. Dingoes are common in the northern and central parts of Australia, but have been effectively controlled in the south-east and far south-west of the mainland Corbett The potential to introduce dingoes to control exotic predators in areas where they are now absent is remote, due to their potential impact on agricultural interests. Foxes and rabbits are absent from tropical northern Australia and from Kangaroo Island, but both species occur in the semi-arid lands where most extinctions and severe declines have occurred.

    Tasmania is free of dingoes and foxes, but has rabbits. The magnitude of competition between foxes and feral cats for food is not fully known see Kinnear et al. Both feral cats and foxes are known to prey heavily on rabbits, but have the capacity to eat a wide variety of foods eg Catling The degree of dependency of foxes and feral cats on rabbits is indicated by the decline in their populations after a crash in rabbit numbers Newsome et al.

    Recent CSIRO studies suggest that foxes are dominant to cats and may restrict their full use of resources in an area as well as possibly killing them Molsher unpub. Smith and Quin modelled the decline and extinction of a diverse range of native rodents, finding that introduced predators, and the presence of rabbits and house mice explained much of the decline. In particular, the presence of foxes and rabbits led to the most severe declines, but declines were less severe where dingoes were present.

    The abundance of feral cats explained the loss of conilurine rodents less than 35 grams. Where all predators were sustained by mice and rabbits, the declines in native species were uniformly severe Smith and Quin What is not fully understood is the relationship between feral cats and raptors or wild dogs. Although amensal impacts are not listed as a key threatening process, native species may also be deleteriously affected through parasites and diseases transmitted from cats. Toxoplasmosis gondii is known to be able to infect a range of marsupial and other mammalian hosts including man Jones Exposure to this disease may be detectable through disease symptoms or blood tests but significant or sustained damage to the faunal assemblage from Toxoplasmosis may have already occurred historically and the impact can only be guessed at Dickman Future action may be necessary to examine the possibility for control or management of the impact of disease on vulnerable populations of endangered species.

    Nevertheless, there are concerns that domestic cats may be threatened by actions taken to control the impacts of feral cats. Aboriginal people recognise introduced animals as part of the landscape and see them as newcomers rather than feral Rose In particular, some Aboriginal people argue that the feral cat pre-dated European settlement and is part of Aboriginal law Rose With the decline and extinction of many arid zone mammals with a mean adult body mass of between 35 grams and gram defined by Burbidge and McKenzie as the critical weight range mammals introduced mammals are viewed by Aboriginal people as a welcome addition to their diet.

    Consideration of the differing cultural values attached to domestic and feral cats must be an important component of any control program. Animal welfare issues related to feral cat control were thoroughly discussed at a workshop that preceded the preparation of this plan Carter Both these organisations accepted that there is a need to control feral cats to protect environmental values and wildlife.

    Both strongly emphasised the need for control methods to be humane. Neither organisation supported the use of mechanical hold fast traps, such as steel-jawed leg-hold traps, that are widely considered to be inhumane, however the recent development of the Victor Soft-catch trap may overcome this concern Meek et al. ANZFAS was prepared to support research and development into biological reproductive control of feral cats, as long as it was humane and environmentally safe.

    The RSPCA was prepared to review its position on this issue if the technique could be shown to be humane, and environmentally safe, and if the safety of owned cats could be guaranteed. Both organisations recognised the need to control feral cats from time to time. It is accepted that where the removal of cats would contribute to the balance of the environment, humane control methods must be developed. State and Territory wildlife agencies have a long history of practical feral cat management and it is largely through their efforts, often supported by Commonwealth programs, that major technical and strategic advances have been made.

    An important function of this plan is to ensure the most effective application of Commonwealth resources to augment and enhance the existing work of the States and Territories, local government, community groups and the private sector, to gain the best outcome for nature conservation. In March , Environment Australia organised a workshop to discuss feral cat management and the development of a threat abatement plan. The workshop was attended by a wide cross-section of wildlife experts and public interest groups.

    It provided an overview of the task, and advice on principles of feral cat management, community attitudes and approaches, research and animal welfare Carter, Following that workshop, in Environment Australia contracted Dr Chris Dickman Institute of Wildlife Research, University of Sydney to produce an overview of the known impacts of feral cats on Australian wildlife.

    In recent years, in addition to funding programs to control feral cats on its own lands, the Commonwealth has provided funding to State, Territory and community organisations for feral cat control activities Table 2. Activities have included:. Table 2. Commonwealth expenditure under the Feral Pests Program and National Feral Animal Control Program — on feral cat management for nature conservation. The knowledge documented by Dickman on the known impacts of feral cats, the results of the workshop and the results of research and management programs funded by the Commonwealth have provided the information base from which this threat abatement plan has been developed.

    These processes have led to a high degree of consensus on the approaches proposed to reduce the impact on threatened species and native wildlife of predation by feral cats. Total eradication of feral cats throughout Australia is impossible with the humane control techniques currently available. Identification of those species and populations that will benefit most from feral cat control is therefore particularly important.

    A nationally agreed methodology for ranking areas on a consistent basis is required in order to maximise the conservation benefits derived from expenditure on feral cat control. Such a methodology needs to take account of protecting existing populations of threatened species, facilitating their expansion and preparing areas for translocation. Parkes and Nugent offer a weighted or ranked system that measures risk from the pest species and the ability to manage it.

    Parkes noted that for this to happen, the response of the affected resources to pest densities must be known in order to determine the optimal point where the benefits are maximised and when control should cease. The level of variation in the system must also be known to enable the effects of management actions to be separated from the effects of environmental changes.

    The knowledge gap about the impacts of feral cats on the biota of mainland Australia Dickman precludes an accurate estimation of the environmental or other costs imposed by feral cats or the benefits to be derived by their control. Increasing resolution of the deficiencies in our knowledge will allow a better assessment of the value of control activities. Dickman identified areas where extant native species are most at risk from predation by feral cats and the ecosystems where this impact is likely, or known to be, greatest.

    The analysis did not include areas where the reintroduction of species into their former range may occur. The priority regions, with the corresponding bioregions in brackets Thackway and Creswell , are ranked as:. The priorities identified by Dickman are not universally accepted, with some State conservation agencies identifying other areas as higher priority. In addition the continuing development of recovery plans is likely to identify further species which are threatened by feral cat predation, and the areas of habitat critical for the species survival.

    Priorities must evolve with new information and experience to ensure an efficient national approach to management of feral cats. Landholders and managers, local community groups and the private sector should be encouraged to become involved in coordinated feral cat control programs in their area. The tasks ahead are to greatly increase our knowledge of feral cat impacts on wildlife and to develop better tactical methods for reducing those effects.

    It is a long-term process and the threat abatement plan offers a framework for undertaking these tasks. Abating the threat posed by feral cats and securing threatened species is a long-term process requiring careful planning, research, frequent review, the adoption of new knowledge and an adaptive management framework.

    As has been stated previously, the total eradication of feral cats throughout Australia is impossible with the humane control techniques currently available. In addition, resources will never be sufficient to deal with all feral cat problems so this plan must ensure the strategic allocation of resources to give the best outcome for threatened species conservation. There are two main approaches that can be taken, with current techniques, to reduce feral cat damage.


    The first is to use conventional methods to eradicate or suppress feral cats in manageable areas of high conservation value and to eradicate them from small islands. The second approach is preventative—ensuring that feral cats do not become established on islands of high conservation value where they do not presently occur. At the same time development of more effective and humane techniques to control feral cats must be actively encouraged and supported.

    As a strategy, local eradication of feral cats is applicable only to small islands or small mainland sites that are surrounded by predator exclusion fences. Local eradication is a viable option only for areas which meet strict criteria:. Maintaining an area free from feral cats requires a sustained control operation to prevent reinvasion from surrounding areas. Buffer zones may be a necessary component of managing small areas, to reduce the threat from continual reinvasion from surrounding areas replacing cats killed during control operations. Development of such buffer zones will require the active participation of surrounding land managers and a clear identification of the benefits to be obtained by all participants.

    Significant benefits can be obtained through cooperative implementation of plans across different land tenures. Where local eradication is not possible there are two broad strategies which can be used for localised management. These are: sustained management, where control is implemented on a continuing regular basis; and intermittent management, which seeks to apply control at critical periods of the year when damage is greatest and short term control will reduce impacts to acceptable levels. Sustained control is generally necessary for protecting habitats of endangered species or reintroduction sites.

    Intermittent control may be effective as a temporary seasonal measure to protect areas such as nesting or resting sites of migratory bird species. It may also be useful when transient feral cats are moving into an area where threatened species have been reintroduced, during periods of drought, prey shortage, disease or other stress when the feral cat population is vulnerable and likely to crash.

    Recovery plans for a number of species identify feral cats as a perceived threat Table 1. To ensure efficient and effective use of resources, an experimental approach must be used to determine the significance of feral cat predation in the decline of these species. By approaching local control on an experimental basis, the true significance of predation by feral cats will be better understood. If the hypothesis that feral cats are a significant threat is confirmed, this will justify expanding control activities to other sites where the species occurs.

    Alternatively, if cat control is shown to be irrelevant to recovery of the species, efforts can be re-directed to those activities that are effective in promoting its recovery. Programs to control feral cats must be integrated with other pest control activities whenever possible. The pest species management series published by the Bureau of Resource Sciences provides guidelines for the application of an integrated approach to pest management Braysher ; Williams et al.

    The steps used by Braysher for planning and evaluating integrated pest management programs are as follows:. A focus on integrated pest management and local action will provide a good mechanism for integrating feral cat control with other biodiversity conservation actions such as Bushcare and other programs funded through the Natural Heritage Trust. High priority must be given to monitoring the outcomes of feral cat control in terms of conservation benefits derived, and not simply a body count of dead cats.

    Ineffective control may result in high body counts but little reduction in predation due to cats maintaining a sustainably high reproductive rate, bait-shy and trap-shy cats maintaining predation pressure, or immigration. Cat control programs must evolve with new information and experience from all these activities, to ensure a national approach to management of feral cats to enhance nature conservation.

    The success of this plan will initially be judged in terms of the benefits to nature conservation from the clarification of the impact of feral cats, and from the application of improved control methods developed through research. The aims of this plan are to promote the recovery of endangered or vulnerable native species and communities, and to prevent further species becoming endangered by reducing predation by feral cats to non-threatening levels. These aims will be achieved by implementing currently available cat control techniques at sites of high conservation value, providing for the development of new control techniques, and collecting information to improve our understanding of cats and their impacts.

    The key performance indicators will be the development and application of a cat-specific control measure and the degree of security achieved for species that are currently or potentially threatened by feral cat predation. Objective 1: Eradicate feral cats from islands where they are a threat to endangered or vulnerable native animals.

    Objective 2: Prevent feral cats occupying new islands in Australia where they may threaten species or ecological communities with extinction. Objective 3: Promote the recovery of species and ecological communities that are endangered or vulnerable as a result of predation by feral cats. Objective 4: Improve the effectiveness and humaneness of cat control methods. Objective 5: Improve knowledge and understanding of the impacts of feral cats on endangered or vulnerable native animals and the interactions of feral cats with other pest species.

    Objective 6: Communicate the results of the threat abatement plan actions to management agencies, landholders and the public. Objective 7: Effectively coordinate feral cat control activities. Cost-effective and efficient control measures will, wherever possible, be applied through regionally coordinated management partnerships involving landholders, community groups and all levels of government.

    Management of cats will be integrated with other natural resource management activities and, where relevant, with the management of other pest species identified as contributing to key threatening processes. To achieve the objective of threat abatement, actions in four key areas are prescribed:. As indicated above, predation by feral cats has been demonstrated to be a significant threat to many island populations of native animals. Eradication of feral cats from an island may be a feasible option with long-term benefits to threatened species.

    Currently there is a major integrated pest management program to remove feral cats, among other introduced species, from the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island to protect nesting sea bird colonies, including albatrosses. The program is based upon existing control methods such as trapping and shooting, but would be significantly enhanced if the cat-specific baiting control system currently being researched should become available for broadscale use.

    Continue to implement the feral cat eradication program currently being conducted on Macquarie Island. Identify other islands with feral cats present and determine priorities for eradication programs based on the species to be protected from predation. Given that predation by feral cats is known to have caused the decline or extinction of island populations of native species, a priority of this plan is to minimise the risk of cats becoming established on any more islands.

    Preventing the introduction of cats to islands of high conservation value requires identification of potential routes of invasion, a risk analysis to determine the probability of such an event and procedures to manage and minimise the risk. There must also be the ability to detect incursions before feral cat populations have a chance to become established, and contingency plans which identify the most appropriate control measures and funding sources to implement the required control.

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    Identify islands of high conservation value and rank the level of risk of cats being introduced and establishing populations on these islands. Identify measures to ensure that islands known to be of high conservation value remain free of feral cats. Develop and implement contingency plans to contain and exterminate any incursion by cats onto islands with high conservation values. Environment Australia will provide funds from its operating budget to enable staff to work with relevant State authorities to implement these actions.

    Identification of islands of high conservation value will be based on existing data. Additional costs of these actions will be determined by the results of the risk analysis. Predation by feral cats has been confirmed as a significant threat to a small number of listed endangered and vulnerable species Table 1. Recovery plans for these species identify control of feral cats as a necessary component of the recovery process. Implementation of local control plans in areas identified as critical habitat for these species must be a top priority of this threat abatement plan.

    Predation by feral cats has also been identified as a perceived threat for a number of listed endangered or vulnerable species Table 1. For these species there is a need to test whether cat predation is a serious threat to recovery. Development and implementation of recovery plans for these species should determine the significance of predation by feral cats as a threat to these species and the level of control necessary to secure recovery of the species.

    Cat control activities promoted under these recovery plans must be designed to help quantify the significance of predation by feral cats compared to other threats to the species concerned. Translocation has been identified as an important strategy for expanding existing populations of endangered species. Some of the most successful examples of conservation of endangered species have been on islands or within enclosures from which feral predators are excluded.

    Preparing areas to receive translocated populations is an important component of the recovery plans of a number of species known, or perceived, to be threatened by predation by feral cats. Implementation of local control plans in areas designated as translocation sites for such species should be a high priority and be consistent with the recovery plans for these species. Implement local control for species where predation by feral cats is a known threat. Implement local control programs in areas designated as translocation sites for species where predation by feral cats is a known threat.

    Implement experimental control programs in areas of critical habitat for species perceived to be threatened by cat predation, to determine the significance of the threat and the level of control necessary to secure recovery. Support regional organisations, community groups and conservation agencies to collaboratively develop and implement local feral cat control programs to protect endangered or vulnerable native species.

    Identify incentives to promote and maintain on-ground feral cat control on private or leasehold lands that contain populations of endangered species, or where control is necessary, to provide a buffer zone around a population of a listed species. The Commonwealth will make funds available, through the Endangered Species, and Feral Animal Control Program, and other programs of the Natural Heritage Trust, to support projects involving local feral cat control. Commonwealth funding will assist the development of local partnerships, where appropriate, to integrate management of feral cats on public and private lands.

    Where local feral cat control confirms that feral cat predation is a significant threat to particular species, this plan will promote the expansion and integration of local site-specific control plans into regional control plans for the species, as well as promoting direct links with other relevant biodiversity conservation initiatives in the region.

    Regional control plans are designed to provide protection to, or to provide a substantial expansion of suitable habitat for, a number of threatened species. They are also valuable in preparing areas for the reintroduction of species to sites within their former range. It is debatable whether control of feral cats at a regional level is feasible using existing control methods. Existing control methods baiting and shooting are expensive and have varying success due to intermittent susceptibility of many populations of feral cats to these control measures.

    There are also problems in developing and managing control programs that involve large areas of land under different tenure.

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    Nevertheless, South Australia is attempting to control feral cats at a regional level under Operation Bounceback , which is developing an integrated approach to the control of foxes, feral cats, goats and rabbits, involving national parks, neighbouring landholders and community groups. Implementation of this regional control plan will identify the potential effectiveness of broadscale control of feral cats using existing technology. It will also substantially enhance the ability of land managers to develop and apply an integrated approach to feral animal control, which must be a priority of this threat abatement plan.

    Further investment in regional feral cat control programs will be contingent upon the development of new control systems suitable for broad-scale application or the demonstration by Operation Bounceback that the application of existing control methods can achieve cost-effective control at the regional level. Continue implementation of Operation Bounceback in South Australia.

    This will test the effectiveness of applying existing feral cat control methods at a regional scale to minimise predation on remnant populations of threatened species and facilitate the reintroduction of locally extinct species. The Commonwealth will make funds available, through the programs of the Natural Heritage Trust, to support the further development of this regional feral cat control program. Where possible, management of feral cats on public and private lands will be integrated with other regional biodiversity conservation measures through the development of regional partnerships.

    Recent studies funded under the National Feral Animal Control Program have identified a potentially cat-specific toxin which appears to be a humane method of control. Further detailed studies are needed to confirm that the toxin causes a humane death and can be effectively applied in the wild, and to provide the information necessary for the new compound to be nationally registered as an approved method of control for feral cats. Recovery of species threatened by feral cat predation will only occur if the amount of predation can be reduced rapidly to non-threatening levels.

    Development of a new and effective method of humane lethal control for feral cats is the highest priority of this threat abatement plan. Control of feral cats has only received significant attention in recent years because of concerns about the impacts that predation by feral cats may be having on threatened species of native animals.

    As a consequence, there is not an agreed code of practice for the humane capture, handling or destruction of feral cats. Identification of acceptable humane control methods is a priority of this threat abatement plan. Support studies to develop, test and register a more humane, cat-specific toxin for the control of feral cats.

    Develop a code of practice for the humane capture, handling and destruction of feral cats. The costs of these actions cannot be accurately determined as they will depend upon the nature of the tests required to evaluate and register a new poison bait system to control feral cats. Cats have a high rate of reproduction, usually producing two litters a year with up to seven young in each litter. Females become sexually mature at 10 to 12 months old while males mature at 12 to 14 months.

    In good seasons feral cat numbers can increase rapidly. In these circumstances, control methods that result in only temporary sterility would be unlikely to provide any effective level of population control. Currently there are no effective chemical sterilants for cats that will result in permanent sterility Moodie The development of a non-lethal method of cat control may be particularly important for use in urban and peri-urban areas where the risk to domestic animals may prevent or severely restrict the use of poison.

    However, fertility control is still at an experimental stage of development and has yet to be successfully applied to a free ranging population of wild mammals over a large area. In addition, fertility control does not address the immediate problem of predation by feral cats being at levels that are detrimental to the continued survival of the threatened species population. Given the high cost of research on fertility control agents and the existing research on other species, this plan recommends that progress in the development of fertility controls for foxes, rabbits and mice be monitored, but that no additional funds be invested in work on cats until the benefits of current research have been demonstrated.

    Monitor progress with the development of fertility control methods for foxes, rabbits and mice. Should these studies demonstrate the effectiveness of fertility control methods for any of these species, review the potential applicability to feral cat control and identify the research necessary to develop and apply the methodology to feral cats.

    Whether the intention is to control cats through poison or fertility control agents, a suitable delivery system or bait is required. Tradition and convenience have usually determined the selection of bait materials, although a wide range of products has been employed. It is important to ensure that the most cost-effective delivery systems are used and the risk of bait shyness developing in feral cats is minimised. A priority of this plan is to identify the most attractive bait for feral cats that could be used in conjunction with a cat-specific toxin to produce an effective feral cat control system.

    It is also important to ensure that the risks of non-target poisoning are minimised. Identify the most attractive bait materials for use with feral cats and the conditions under which different baits will be most effective by reviewing the results of previous studies on a range of potential baits.

    Assess existing delivery systems for their effectiveness in delivering control substances to feral cats and minimising the risk of non-target impacts. Identify and develop the most attractive bait s for use in combination with the cat-specific toxin to provide a feral cat control system suitable for broadscale use. Exclusion fences have been promoted as a suitable means of minimising predation on threatened species of native animals. The threat abatement plan for foxes has identified the need to evaluate the effectiveness of existing fence designs to exclude foxes.

    Fence designs should also be evaluated in terms of their effectiveness in excluding cats. Information you record within FeralCatScan may also be shared with local government to help to establish sustainable long-term and humane solutions to feral cat management. This threat abatement plan TAP establishes a national framework to guide and coordinate Australia's response to the impacts of feral cats on biodiversity.

    It identifies the research, management and other actions needed to ensure the long-term survival of native species and ecological communities affected by predation by feral cats. It replaces the threat abatement plan for predation by feral cats published in Australian Government website.

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