Tag Archives: feral animals

Enumerating a continental-scale threat: How many feral cats are in Australia?

Authors: S Legge, BP Murphy, H McGregor, JCZ Woinarski, J Augusteyn, G Ballard, M Baseler, T Buckmaster, CR Dickman, T Doherty, G Edwards, T Eyre, BA Fancourt, D Ferguson, DM Forsyth, WL Geary, M Gentle, G Gillespie, L Greenwood, R Hohnen, S Hume, CN Johnson, M Maxwell, PJ McDonald, K Morris, K Moseby, T Newsome, D Nimmo, R Paltridge, D Ramsey, J Read, A Rendall, M Rich, E Ritchie, J Rowland, J Short, D Stoked, DR Sutherland, AF Wayne, L Woodford and F Zewe.

Published in: Biological Conservation


Feral cats (Felis catus) have devastated wildlife globally. In Australia, feral cats are implicated in most recent mammal extinctions and continue to threaten native species. Cat control is a high-profile priority for Australian policy, research and management.

To develop the evidence-base to support this priority, we first review information on cat presence/absence on Australian islands and mainland cat-proof exclosures, finding that cats occur across >99.8% of Australia’s land area. Next, we collate 91 site-based feral cat density estimates in Australia and examine the influence of environmental and geographic influences on density.

We extrapolate from this analysis to estimate that the feral cat population in natural environments fluctuates between 1.4 million (95% confidence interval: 1.0–2.3 million) after continent-wide droughts, to 5.6 million (95% CI: 2.5–11 million) after extensive wet periods. We estimate another 0.7 million feral cats occur in Australia’s highly modified environments (urban areas, rubbish dumps, intensive farms).

Feral cat densities are higher on small islands than the mainland, but similar inside and outside conservation land. Mainland cats reach highest densities in arid/semi-arid areas after wet periods. Regional variation in cat densities corresponds closely with attrition rates for native mammal fauna.

The overall population estimate for Australia’s feral cats (in natural and highly modified environments), fluctuating between 2.1 and 6.3 million, is lower than previous estimates, and Australian feral cat densities are lower than reported for North America and Europe. Nevertheless, cats inflict severe impacts on Australian fauna, reflecting the sensitivity of Australia’s native species to cats and reinforcing that policy, research and management to reduce their impacts is critical.

Legge, S, et al (2016) Enumerating a continental-scale threat: How many feral cats are in Australia? Biological Conservation PDF DOI


Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss

Authors: Tim S Doherty, Alistair S Glen, Dale G Nimmo, Euan G Ritchie and Chris R Dickman

Published in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Invasive species threaten biodiversity globally, and invasive mammalian predators are particularly damaging, having contributed to considerable species decline and extinction. We provide a global meta-analysis of these impacts and reveal their full extent.

Invasive predators are implicated in 87 bird, 45 mammal, and 10 reptile species extinctions — 58% of these groups’ contemporary extinctions worldwide. These figures are likely underestimated because 23 critically endangered species that we assessed are classed as “possibly extinct.”

Invasive mammalian predators endanger a further 596 species at risk of extinction, with cats, rodents, dogs, and pigs threatening the most species overall.

Species most at risk from predators have high evolutionary distinctiveness and inhabit insular environments. Invasive mammalian predators are therefore important drivers of irreversible loss of phylogenetic diversity worldwide.

That most impacted species are insular indicates that management of invasive predators on islands should be a global conservation priority. Understanding and mitigating the impact of invasive mammalian predators is essential for reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss.

Doherty TS, Glen AS, Nimmo DG, Ritchie EG, Dickman CR (2016) Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences PDF DOI


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.


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

Stemming the tide: progress towards resolving the causes of decline and implementing management responses for the disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia

Authors: Mark R Ziembicki, John C Z Woinarski, Jonathan K Webb, Eric Vanderduys, Katherine Tuft, James Smith, Euan G Ritchie, Terry B Reardon, Ian J Radford, Noel Preece, Justin Perry, Brett P Murphy, Hugh McGregor, Sarah Legge, Lily Leahy, Michael J Lawes, John Kanowski, Chris N Johnson, Alex James, Anthony D Griffiths, Graeme Gillespie, Anke S K Frank, Alaric Fisher and Andrew A Burbidge.


Recent studies at some sites in northern Australia have reported severe and rapid decline of some native mammal species, notwithstanding an environmental context (small human population size, limited habitat loss, substantial reservation extent) that should provide relative conservation security.

All of the more speciose taxonomic groups of mammals in northern Australia have some species for which the conservation status has been assessed as threatened, with 53% of dasyurid, 46% of macropod and potoroid, 33% of bandicoot and bilby, 33% of possum, 31% of rodent, and 24% of bat species being assessed as extinct, threatened or near-threatened.

This paper reviews disparate recent and ongoing studies that provide information on population trends across a broader geographic scope than the previously reported sites, and provides some information on the conservation status and trends for mammal groups (bats, larger macropods) not well sampled in previous monitoring studies. It describes some diverse approaches of studies seeking to document conservation status and trends, and of the factors that may be contributing to observed patterns of decline.

The studies reported provide some compelling evidence that predation by feral cats is implicated in the observed decline, with those impacts likely to be exacerbated by prevailing fire regimes (frequent, extensive and intense fire), by reduction in ground vegetation cover due to livestock and, in some areas, by ‘control’ of dingoes. However the impacts of dingoes may be complex, and are not yet well resolved in this area.

The relative impacts of these individual factors vary spatially (with most severe impacts in lower rainfall and less topographically rugged areas) and between different mammal species, with some species responding idiosyncratically: the most notable example is the rapid decline of the northern quoll Dasyurus hallucatus due to poisoning by the introduced cane toad Rhinella marina, which continues to spread extensively across northern Australia. The impact of disease, if any, remains unresolved.

Recovery of the native mammal fauna may be impossible in some areas. However, there are now examples of rapid recovery following threat management. Priority conservation actions include: enhanced biosecurity for important islands, establishment of a network of substantial predator exclosures, intensive fire management (aimed at increasing the extent of longer-unburnt habitat and in delivering fine scale patch burning), reduction in feral stock in conservation reserves, and acquisition for conservation purposes of some pastoral lands in areas that are significant for mammal conservation.

Ziembicki MR, Woinarski JCZ, Webb JK, Vanderduys E, Tuft K, Smith J, Ritchie EG, Reardon TB, Radford IJ, Preece N, Perry JP, Murphy BP, McGregor H, Legge S, Leahy L, Lawes MJ, Kanowski J, Johnson CN, James A, Griffiths AD, Gillespie G, Frank ASK, Fisher A, Burbidge AA (2015) Stemming the tide: progress towards resolving the causes of decline and implementing management responses for the disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia, Therya 2015 6(1) 169-225 PDF DOI