Draft national targets for feral cat management: Towards the effective control of feral cats in Australia – targets with teeth

Authors: John CZ Woinarski, Keith Morris and Euan G Ritchie

Published in: Tracey J, Lane C, Fleming P, Dickman C, Quinn J, Buckmaster, T, McMahon S (ed) (2015) 2015 National Feral Cat Management Workshop Proceedings.

Summary

Feral cats have been present in Australia since soon after European settlement. They are now numerous and pervasive across the continent, and occur on many islands. Although they have been recognised as a Key Threatening Process to Australian biodiversity under the EPBC Act since 1999, and there has been a Threat Abatement Plan for them in place since 2008, there has to date been little progress towards their effective management.

The challenges to effective control of feral cats in Australia are formidable. The geographic scale of concern is immense; many potential control mechanisms (such as trapping and shooting) typically have only superficial, transient and localised benefits; design of effective baits has only recently progressed substantially; there may be significant non-target impacts (including for threatened species such as quolls) from such toxic baits; baiting programs may need to be sustained for many years, and in many places need to also consider integration with control of foxes; reduction in cat numbers may have unwanted consequences (increases in other pest species, such as rabbits or introduced rodents); control programs will be expensive; and there will be some community concern about cat control.

However, progress towards the effective control of feral cats will achieve marked biodiversity benefits. Such control is likely to be substantially more efficient and cost-effective, and produce more enduring outcomes, than alternative conservation approaches based on intensive management for individual threatened species.
Here, we propose short-term (one year) targets towards the effective control of feral cats in Australia. These targets are set within a broader contextual and long-term (ca. 20 years) objective: No further extinctions of Australian wildlife, and pronounced recovery (and return to the wild) of at least 40 currently threatened animal species.

The targets recommended here are designed strategically to help establish a robust foundation for the decadal-scale campaign likely to be required to achieve enduring success. This should not be taken to indicate that significant progress can be achieved, if at all, only at glacial speed. Rather, explicit and dramatic short-term targets set now are required to overcome inertia, to recognise that this is a problem that should be confronted, to demonstrate that successful outcomes are possible, and because the continuing existence of some threatened species requires immediate action.

Woinarski JCZ, Morris K, Ritchie EG (2015) Draft national targets for feral cat management: Towards the effective control of feral cats in Australia – targets with teeth in Tracey J, Lane C, Fleming P, Dickman C, Quinn J, Buckmaster, T, McMahon S (ed) (2015) 2015 National Feral Cat Management Workshop Proceedings, Canberra, 21-22 April 2015. PestSmart Toolkit publication, Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Canberra, Australia. PDF LINK