Are We Dealing With an Environmental Cat-astrophe?

Did you know Australia has between 1.4 – 5.6 million feral cats spread across 99.9% of our continent? And did you know that feral cats prey on 272 million birds, 466 million reptiles, 815 million mammals and 1.1 billion invertebrates annually?! Including feral, stray and pet cats there are over 3 billion animals killed by cats every year across the country.

Last week, Kane, Jarna and Belle were in Perth for the second WA Feral Cat Symposium. First held in 2018, the WA Feral Cat Symposium brings together conservation managers, Traditional Owners, researchers, landholders, industry and all three levels of government from across Australia to tackle the complex issue of protecting WA’s native animals through effective, humane feral cat control.

After an insightful couple of days, we’ve popped together some key messages about feral cats here:

  • Feral cats are considered to be one of the most threatening invasive alien species worldwide.
  • Feral cats have contributed to 26% of bird, mammal and reptile extinctions globally.
  • They are currently impacting a further 360 threatened bird, mammal and reptile species throughout the world.
  • One feral cat in the Australian bush can prey on 791 mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs/year and 371 invertebrates each year.
  • Cats were first introduced to Australia in 1788. By 1840 they had become feral, and by 1890 they had spread over 90% of the continent.
  • Feral cats threaten Australia’s unique and remarkable native wildlife through predation, competition for prey and habitat, and the spread of disease.
  • Since European settlement, feral cats have played a significant role in 27 of the 34 native mammal extinctions, 2 of the 9 native bird extinctions and all of the 3 reptile extinctions. A further 75 critically endangered or near threatened mammals40 birds, 21 reptiles and 4 amphibians are currently threatened by feral cats in Australia.
  • Noticeable benefits to native fauna have been observed where feral cats have been effectively controlled.
  • Cat-dependent diseases rely on cats for at least part of their life cycle. The main cat-dependent diseases in Australia are Toxoplasmosis, Sarcocytosis, and cat ringworm. Together they cost the Australian economy over $6 billion annually.
  • Australian marsupials, such as the eastern barred bandicoot, are particularly vulnerable to toxoplasmosis, a disease spread by cats.  Toxoplasmosis can infect any bird or mammal and can result in anorexia, lethargy, reduced coordination, apparent blindness, disorientation, breathing difficulties, jaundice, fever, abortion, and death.
  • WA is fortunate to have the remaining natural populations of many native species, including the numbat, banded hare-wallaby, golden-backed tree-rat and mala. This makes protecting our native wildlife from feral cats even more pertinent.
  • Pet cats safely contained at home are at less risk of sickness, disease, parasites, injury from cars, dogs and other cats.

If you are interested in feral cat management on your property or you would like to know more about protecting our native species, check out this webpage: https://wafcwg.org.au/management/ or feel free to get in touch with our NACC NRM staff.

Thanks to our friend Mick at Peel-Harvey Catchment Council for taking these snaps at the Symposium.

Annabelle Garratt – Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator

1 comment

Great work Annabelle. Feral cats & rabbits are a real issue where we are I can trap the cats & dispose of humanely. Can you recommend a good Rabbit elimination strategy, please? Regards Jen Z

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