Feral cats killing more wildlife than they can eat

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feral cats

A new study has uncovered just how threatening feral cats are to Australian wildlife. While it has long been known that feral cats pose a risk to native fauna researchers found that their hunting is even more efficient and frequent than previously thought.

“The purpose of the study was to examine the hunting behaviours and distances travelled by feral cats and their impact on small mammals,” said Dr John Kanowski from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Researchers used GPS tracking collars on 66 feral cats across Cape York Peninsula, Queensland and the Kimberley, Western Australia.

“In both regions, cats were observed to travel long distances outside their regular home ranges, particularly to areas burnt by intense fires, which had removed almost all ground cover.

“We assumed they travelled to these areas because the exposed prey made them easier to hunt.”

In the effort to test their hypothesis, researchers fitted the tracking collars with cameras, capturing the first point-of-view footage of feral cats in the Australian wild.

“The footage showed us where cats went and how they hunted. We also recorded footage of cats killing reptiles, birds and frogs,” said Dr Kanowski

“On average, each cat hunted 20 times a day with a 30 per cent success rate. So on average, each cat killed seven animals a day, but ate only two-thirds of the animals they killed. This means that analyses of cat stomach contents will underestimate their impact. Data suggests that feral cats are probably killing around three million native animals a year in the Mornington-Marion Downs (Kimberley) area alone.

“In open areas, particularly where there had been fires, 80 per cent of hunts resulted in a kill but when cats attempted to hunt among dense grass or rocky country, only 20 per cent of hunts resulted in a kill.

“The fact that predation success by feral cats is highly responsive to ground cover is an important breakthrough. The result implies that impacts of feral cats can be reduced through effective fire management and feral herbivore control, although it is likely that direct control measures will also be required,” he said.

“Feral cats are difficult to control at a landscape-scale and currently there’s no silver bullet for saving mammals from feral cats. More research is needed to identify broad-scale solutions. Until then we need to implement strategies likely to deliver the best returns—such as establishing more feral predator-free areas.”

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