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Are Feral Cats taking over Australia?

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Feral cats pose a significant threat to the survival of indigenous species in Australia. These non-native predators are descendants of domestic cats that have returned to a wild state. These cats lead to the endangering of numerous native species and continue to exert pressure on many more. The estimated number of feral cats in Australia fluctuates between 1.4 million and 5.6 million depending on food availability. Feral cat populates exist throughout Australia.

A feral cat in the wild.

Key points

  • Feral cats threaten indigenous species in Australia.
  • Feral cats are solitary, nocturnal, and efficient hunters.
  • Feral cats disrupt Australia’s unique ecosystems.
  • Feral cats prey heavily on mammals, birds, reptiles, and frogs.
  • Indigenous species lack defenses against feral cat predation.
  • Feral cat control methods raise ethical concerns.
  • Innovative strategies and research are crucial for protecting Australia’s wildlife.

What are feral cats?

Feral cats are the same species as domestic cats. Although these wild cats live and reproduce in the wild, surviving by hunting and scavenging. Feral cats generally live in solitary and are nocturnal. They spend most of the day hidden away. They are carnivorous and eat small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and birds. This all depends on the availability of prey.

Character TraitDomesticated Tame CatsFeral Cats
Social BehaviorTame cats are generally sociable and enjoy human company. They are often comfortable around people and other pets.Feral cats are typically wary of humans and avoid contact. They are solitary animals but may form colonies around a food source.
Hunting InstinctsDomesticated cats still retain their hunting instincts but are often less pronounced due to regular feeding and less need for survival hunting.Feral cats rely on their hunting skills for survival. They are highly efficient predators, hunting a wide range of species.
TerritoryDomesticated cats have smaller territories, usually confined to their home and immediate surroundings.Feral cats have larger territories, marking and defending aggressively against other cats.
HealthDomesticated cats usually have regular veterinary care, including vaccinations and parasite control, contributing to better overall health.Feral cats often have poorer health due to a lack of veterinary care, exposure to harsh weather, and risks associated with hunting and defending territory.
ReproductionDomesticated cats are often neutered to control their reproduction.Feral cats have high reproduction rates, contributing to their population growth and the challenges associated with their control.

The problem

Australia is home to a unique array of wildlife. Many of these species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. However, feral cats have disrupted the delicate balance of these ecosystems. Feral cats are highly adaptable and efficient hunters, preying on various species, from insects and reptiles to birds and mammals. Their hunting prowess and ability to survive in various habitats, from arid deserts to lush forests, have made them a formidable threat to native wildlife.

Cat TypeMammals, Birds, Reptiles, and Frogs/YearInvertebrates/Year
Feral Cat in the Bush791371
Feral Cat in Urban Area449N/A
Pet Cat (Can Roam and Hunt)186N/A

Impact of feral cats on indigenous species

The impact of feral cats on indigenous species is particularly severe because many of these species have evolved in isolation, without the presence of similar predators. As a result, they lack the necessary defenses or adaptive behaviors to evade or withstand cat predation. This has led to a significant decline in the populations of many indigenous species, pushing some to the brink of extinction.

A Bandicoot and Numbat, two of the indigenous species threatened by wild cats

Species that are endangered 

For instance, many Australian marsupials’ ground-dwelling and nocturnal nature makes them particularly vulnerable to feral cats. The Eastern Barred Bandicoot, once common in Victoria, is now listed as extinct in the wild, primarily due to predation by these cats. Similarly, the Night Parrot, a rare and elusive bird species, faces a significant threat from feral cats. Other endangered species include the bilby, bettong, and numbat. These native species are struggling to survive the predation, and these dwindling numbers risk the ability of surviving populations to repopulate. 

What can be done about feral cats endangering indigenous populations? #1

Efforts to control the feral cat population in Australia have been challenging. Traditional methods such as trapping, shooting, or poisoning have proven ineffective on a large scale, partly due to the cats’ elusive nature and high reproduction rate. Moreover, these methods raise ethical concerns and potential risks to non-target species.

What can be done about feral cats endangering indigenous populations? #2

In response, scientists and conservationists are exploring innovative strategies to protect native wildlife. These include the development of baits called “curiosity” and “Eradicat”, designed specifically to attract and poison feral cats while minimizing risks to other animals. “Curiosity” bait is a small meat-based sausage that contains a small hard plastic pellet with a humane toxin within. This design minimizes the risk of native animals ingesting the toxin. “Eradicat” bait is only used in Western Australia. The bait is made of a small meat sausage injected with a synthetic toxin called 1080, and this toxin replicates in some native plants in Australia. Many native animals may have developed a resistance to this toxin. However, despite the research, both toxins may threaten wildlife species. There is a third bait under development to minimize this risk. 

What can be done about feral cats endangering indigenous populations? #3

Furthermore, research is being conducted into biological control methods, such as diseases or parasites targeting feral cats. However, these approaches require careful consideration to ensure they do not inadvertently harm other species or disrupt ecosystems further. There are also efforts to establish predator-free sanctuaries or islands where native species can thrive without the threat of wild cats.

To wrap up

In conclusion, the threat wild cats pose to indigenous species in Australia is a complex and pressing issue. Feral cats are declared pests, and a task force has been created to save the threatened species. This issue underscores the importance of maintaining a balanced ecosystem and requires caution when introducing non-native species.

While solutions are not straightforward, a combination of research, innovative strategies, and public awareness is crucial to protect Australia’s unique and vulnerable wildlife.

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