McGregor, H. W., Hampton, J. O., Lisle, D., & Legge, S. (2016). Live-capture of feral cats using tracking dogs and darting, with comparisons to leg-hold trapping. Wildlife Research, 43(4), 313-322.
Context: Predation by feral cats is a key threatening process to many species of native Australian wildlife. Unfortunately, cats are difficult to capture using standard trapping techniques, limiting the potential to conduct research on their ecology and impacts.
Aims: We present an alternative capture method: remote chemical immobilisation after tracking with trained dogs. We also compare capture rates to a concurrent soft-jaw leg-hold trapping program.
Methods: We used dogs to capture cats detected by spotlighting at night, and also recaptured cats fitted with telemetry collars during the day. Cats were either bailed on the ground or treed and then hand-netted, or chemically immobilised using darts shot from a CO2-powered dart rifle, loaded with tiletamine–zolazepam at ~6 mg kg–1. Factors affecting the success rate of capturing cats using dogs were assessed. Efficiency in terms of cats captured per person-hours of fieldwork were compared using trained dogs versus leg-hold trapping.
Key results: We attempted 160 cat captures using the tracking dogs with 114 of those being successful. There were no mortalities or debilitating physical injuries associated with chemical immobilisation; however, sedated cats had prolonged recoveries (>4 h). Capture success with the tracking dogs increased as the dogs gained experience. Capture success rates per person-hour of fieldwork were four times greater using spotlighting with tracking dogs than using leg-hold traps. The success rate of recaptures using dogs was 97%.
Conclusions: The use of trained tracking dogs proved an effective method for capturing feral cats. The method had a much higher success rate than live-trapping with leg-hold traps, took less effort (in terms of person-hours) and caused less physical injuries than did leg-hold traps. However, substantial setup costs and time are required, which are discussed.
Implications: Using these methods could improve efficiency and outcomes when catching feral cats, and enable more data per individual cat to be collected than otherwise.