Posted on 03/01/2020 by Phillip Island Nature Parks
Tracking Feral Cats
Phillip Island Nature Parks is one step closer to achieving their aim of eliminating feral cats from Phillip Island with the conclusion of the first feral cat tracking research project in Victoria since they were declared an established pest in July 2018.
Feral cats are recognised as a key threat and a leading cause of extinction to Australian wildlife. Cats pose a significant threat to the iconic fauna of Phillip Island through predation and disease.
The project, also running concurrently on French Island, aimed to identify key habitats feral cats use and to determine how detectable they are using current methods of camera traps and spotlighting monitoring.
Networks of remote cameras were deployed at key sites across Phillip Island for up to six weeks to capture photos of animals. Cameras were specifically set up to target feral cats. Images were sorted by individual to create a picture of each cat’s home range size, habitat preference and individual seasonal trends.
“Data gained from this unique study will identify ‘hot spots’ of feral cat activity which in turn allows us to optimise control programs to make them more effective,” said Jessica McKelson, Phillip Island Nature Parks Conservation Manager.
“Understanding and locating where feral cats travel will vastly improve our understanding of feral cat detectability. This is needed to improve estimates of feral cat numbers, which is essential for an effective control program and to improve our knowledge on the impacts of feral cats on biodiversity.”
The trapping program concluded on 27 July 2019. A total of 19 feral cats were trapped including six individuals which were attached with GPS collars and further monitored throughout the program.
The GPS collars allow Nature Parks researchers to remotely download data throughout the program and ensure that data would not be lost if a collar was not able to be retrieved. The VHF ability of the collars also allowed field staff to confirm each of the collared cat’s locations and that they remained within the study area.
Preliminary results conclude that:
• Cats remain close to the coast and in Cape Woolamai, they appear to have significant overlap in their home ranges.
• ‘Hot spots’ exist indicating feral cats prefer the more wooded habitat of Cape Woolamai’s east coast.
These hot spots assisted field staff to implement an intensive, targeted trapping session to retrieve the cats and collars. Within the two-week period, all six collared cats were retrieved and removed from the Nature Parks. Overall, a total of seven feral cats were removed from Phillip Island from areas including Cape Woolamai and a property adjacent to the coastline of Woolshed Bight on the North Coast, bringing the total to 30 feral cats trapped this financial year.
- Feral cats are one of the most damaging introduced predators nation-wide and are directly linked to numerous Australian mammal extinctions across Australia
- They have been implicated in 28 of the past 29 extinctions in Australia and prey upon around 1 million birds per day
- Cats can impact wildlife by direct predation and through the transmission of diseases such as toxoplasmosis.
- The Nature Parks aims to eliminate the threat of feral cats on the environment of Phillip Island.
- The Nature Parks will use evidence based, legal and humane methods to manage cats.
- The eradication of feral cats on Phillip Island is possible only if domestic and stray cats do not contribute to the feral cat population.
- Encouraging and supporting responsible domestic cat ownership on Phillip Island is the responsibility of the Bass Coast Shire Council (BCSC).
- The Nature Parks supports the BCSC in promoting and enforcing responsible ownership of domestic cats.
Roland Pick – Communications Executive
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