Dickman, C. R., Denny, E. A., & Buckmaster, T. (2010). Identification of sites of high conservation priority impacted by feral cats. Report to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra.
Feral cats (Felis catus) have been recorded throughout the Australian mainland and on many offshore islands. Predation by feral cats has been implicated, together with other factors, in the population declines of many species of native vertebrates. Some of these declines have resulted in the shifting of species’ conservation status to a more endangered level, with several native species having become extinct. Predation by feral cats is classified as a key threatening process by the Australian Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The cryptic nature of the cat, its exploitation of both modified and unmodified habitats, its status as both a pest and a pet species, and the abundance of introduced prey species and supplemental food sources throughout its range, all contribute to the many acknowledged problems associated with the control or eradication of feral cats in Australia.
In the absence of a single, robust way to measure cat densities and the known difficulties associated with assessing cat impacts at the species level, indirect methods are required to prioritise sites for the implementation of cat control programs.
This report uses an interactive decision-making tree based on characteristics of prey species to provide a relative measure of probable cat impacts between sites on the Australian mainland and offshore islands. The decision-making tree provides a single score for geographical (IBRA) regions, specific mainland sites and offshore islands that may be used comparatively for the allocation of resources for cat control programs. Although the scores in this report are based only on those species listed in the Australian Government’s Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats (2008), comparative scores can be calculated and allocated for sites that support any species at risk of predation by feral cats and classified as threatened, endangered, or vulnerable at the national, state or local level. Indeed, the decision-making tree also allows non-threatened species to be assessed for their risk of predation from cats, should the need arise to do so.
The interactive decision-making tree provided comparative scores for the potential impact of cats in each IBRA region of Australia. These scores varied from a high of 328 for the South Eastern Highlands IBRA region of eastern Australia, to a low of 24 for the Gawler IBRA region of South Australia and for three other IBRA regions located wholly or largely in Western Australia. However, there were also 9 IBRA regions with no extant TAP-listed species; these consequently received no scores. The decision-making tree also rovided comparative scores for the impact of feral cats in specific sites throughout the mainland and on offshore islands. These scores, based on data provided by land managers or available in the literature, varied from highs of 117 for the Diamantina National Park in Queensland and 108 for the East Gippsland area in Victoria, to a low of 10 for Dirk Hartog Island off the Western Australian coast. Further scores were calculated for sites at which cat control is uncertain (‘data deficient’) and from which cats have been eradicated or never recorded to identify sites that could be potentially impacted by feral cats in future. These scores varied from a high of 201 for sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island to a low of 9 for Boondelbah Island off the coast of New South Wales.
We conclude that feral cat control on the Australian mainland is a long-term, multifaceted,labour- and resource-intensive venture requiring site-specific control methods that provide systematic and regular downward pressure on feral cat populations. An effective program of management should also include concurrent control of populations of both stray and owned domestic cats. We conclude further that greater
success in cat control programs will be achieved by targeting specific sites using site-specific control methods. Human activities such as urban and rural development, agriculture and habitat modification favour the establishment and maintenance of feral cats. We recommend that a ‘nil tenure’ approach to cat control, with management activities encompassing public- and privately-owned reserved land as well as adjacent urban, rural and semi-rural developments, is necessary to reduce the feral cat population on the Australian mainland and offshore islands. In the absence of a sustained and integrated approach of this kind, declines and losses of native species are likely to continue.