The impact of feral cats

All cats have a predatory nature– it is their instinct to hunt and chase even when not hungry– they just can’t help themselves. Cats that are allowed to roam take a considerable toll on small native and exotic mammals, birds, lizards and insects.  Research recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that invasive predators have contributed to around 60% of bird, mammal and reptile extinctions with the worst offenders being feral cats, contributing to over 60 extinctions. Cats are instinctually most active at night, with most hunting occurring soon after sunset and in the hours just before sunrise.

feraloneAn adult cat needs to consume five to eight percent of its body weight in food per day and females with kittens require 20%. Cats can have two litters a year, averaging four kittens a litter. Kittens are weaned at 8 weeks, become sexually mature at approximately 6-8 months and can produce a litter during the same year of their birth.

An unspayed cat is a menace in our community, with male cats spraying and females producing many young. One cat and its offspring can produce 2905 kittens at 7 years and 49,000 at 10 years. When you consider the implications of the uncontrolled exponential growth of a cat population, it is quite frightening. Uncontrolled domestic cat populations do contribute to increasing the feral cat population and cats are having a huge impact on native animals, reptiles and birds.

Many cat owners choose to allow their  cats to wander well beyond their property boundaries. Whilst out and about, their cats are at risk of experiencing car accidents, injuries in fights with other cats or dogs, getting ticks, eaten by pythons, bitten by poisonous snakes (depending on where you live in the Whitsundays) or even being exposed to diseases such as Toxoplasmosis or feline enteritis.

Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii) is a microscopic protozoal parasite. Many animal species and humans can get toxoplasmosis. Cats are the definitive host for the life cycle of the toxoplasmosis organism and the Toxoplasma gondii eggs (oocysts) are shed in the faeces of infected animals.  Humans can also be infected by T. gondii. The protozoa can also be transmitted during pregnancy thereby infecting the unborn foetus. Toxoplasmosis infection can cause abortion and foetal abnormalities in pregnant women and encephalitis in anyone with a low immune system.

feraltwoThe endangered Proserpine Rock Wallaby is at threat from infection with Toxoplasmosis and from direct predation by cats.  Reef Catchments feral cat programs aim to remove feral cats and promote best practice domestic cat management to reduce disease transfer and seeding of the feral cat populations. Please participate in our online cat survey.

The Feral Scan app can also be used to report your sighting. Visit Feral Scan for more information and to download the application.

Best Practice Management of Domestic Cats

What you can do to protect your cat from injury or death and how to prevent your cat from killing native wildlife:

  • Register your cat with your local council. Registration ensures if your cat goes astray and ends up in the pound, you will get it back.
  • Identify your cat with a collar, tag, microchip or tattoo.
  • Desex your cat (males and females) to avoid unwanted litters and seeding of feral cat populations.
  • Vaccinate your cat against feline enteritis etc.
  • Keep your cat indoors/ within your property boundary, ideally in an enclosure, especially at night to prevent it from straying.
  • Provide adequate food and shelter for your cat.
  • Provide your cat with enclosed areas for exercise or exercise your cat on a lead and harness.
  • Attach bells to your cat’s collar so that it can’t stalk animals.
  • Install wire enclosed in conduit or poly pipe along the top of your fences. The rolling conduit prevents the cat from getting purchase on the fence top or install a cat containment system that prevents cats from going over your fence.

Photographs: Sydney Morning Herald

Contact: Olivia Brodhurst 0429 033 541 or olivia.brodhurst@reefcatchments.com

 

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