Feral cats

Page last updated: Thursday, 20 June 2019 - 3:54pm

Feral cats are the same species as domestic cats, but survive in the wild without human reliance or contact. They are a declared species under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 (BAM Act).

Introduction

Feral cats are defined as cats that are living and reproducing in the wild. They are not owned or socialised and survive on their own in the wild by hunting.

Cats are not native to Australia. They arrived with European settlers and were later introduced in an attempt to control rabbits and rodents. Many domestic cats have also become independent of their owners and bred to become feral.

Distribution

Feral cats are found across Western Australia inhabiting all types of habitats including forests, woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and arid areas.

Biology

Feral cats are the same species as domestic cats but differ in how and where they live.

Diet

Feral cats are carnivores and can survive with limited access to water as they acquire most of their water from their prey, and are not dependent on daily access to fresh water.

They generally eat small mammals, but also catch birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects – taking prey up to the size of a brush-tail possum.

In pastoral regions, they feed largely on young rabbits, but in other areas feral cats prey mainly on native animals.

Reproduction

Feral cats have no defined breeding period and can have two to three litters per year; males reach sexual maturity at eight to ten months of age and females from six to eight months, usually having two to three litters year. Each litter consists of three to four kittens, however survival rate is low. They live on average for five years, as opposed to domestic cats that live on average nine to 15 years.

Feral cats breed successfully in the Australian landscape, meaning many feral cats have never known or interacted with humans. Feral cats are now present across 99.8% of the Australian continent and can weigh up to nine kilograms.

Damage

In Western Australia, 36 mammals, 22 bird and 11 reptile species are vulnerable to predation by feral cats and a wide range of other native animals are also adversely affected by feral cats.

Australia-wide, feral cats have played a major role in the extinction of at least 27 mammal species and at present endanger 147 Australian mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs.

Feral cats are recognised by the Environment and Invasives Committee as an extreme threat category for Australia (the highest threat) (IPAC 2015).

Predation by feral cats is recognised as a key threatening process under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Control

Feral cats are a declared pest in Western Australia under the BAM Act. This provides a mechanism for effective and humane management of this pest animal to reduce numbers in a sustained manner.

Recognised control methods for feral cats include exclusion fencing, baiting, trapping using cage traps, and shooting.

Trapping feral cats using cage traps allows the captured animals to be inspected for a collar and registration tag and scanned for a microchip ensuring the identification of domestic cats.

Strict rules apply to shooting and baiting. Baits containing the toxin 1080 can only be used by authorised officers, Licensed Pest Management Technicians or approved users. They must operate under a Code of Practice for the Safe Use and Management of Registered Pesticides containing 1080, PAPP and Strychnine and relevant legislation.

Use of firearms must comply with relevant legislation and accompanying regulations.

Control of feral cats must be humane and undertaken in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act 2002.

Further information

A question and answer document and the policy statement on minimising risk to domestic cats has been published.

 

Author

Rick Bryant