Oliver Tester from the Office of the Threatened Species Commissioner tells us about the Australian Government’s action on feral cats.
Feral cats pose a significant threat to our wildlife. They prey on our precious native species, and spread diseases such as toxoplasmosis and sarcosporidiosis. Since European arrival, feral cats have been implicated in the extinction of at least 20 mammal species and currently threaten a further 124 nationally listed species.
The Australian Government formally recognised this threat in 2000 by listing predation by feral cats as a Key Threatening Process under national environmental law. To support this listing, a Threat Abatement Plan was developed that outlines research, management and other actions needed to ensure the long-term survival of native species and ecological communities affected by feral cat predation.
In 2015, the Australian Government focused national attention on this invasive predator through the launch of the Threatened Species Strategy. The Strategy includes ambitious control targets for feral cats to build momentum for community support and drive national action. By June 2020, the Strategy aims to eradicate feral cats from five islands, establish 10 mainland feral cat–free fenced areas, undertake best practice feral cat control on 12 million hectares and cull two million feral cats across Australia.
The Strategy highlighted the need for new information about the impacts of feral cats and effective control techniques for them. New research led by the National Environmental Science Program’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub has answered this call with research that has gained global attention. The hub is supporting constructive and evidence-based conversations around the polarising issue of lethal feral cat control. Importantly, this research has improved our understanding of the impacts of cats and how to strategically manage the threat they pose, as well as directly informing policy approaches to both domestic and feral cats across all levels of government.
The Australian Government is using recent research led by the hub about a national stocktake of predator-free safe havens. This research demonstrated the need for a more strategic approach to the future construction of conservation infrastructure and is informing a $10 million fund to support projects which can fill critical gaps in the national safe haven network.
The feral cat research undertaken by the hub will also be vital for responding to the bushfire crisis taking place across south-eastern Australia at the time of writing. Research on how feral cats react to environmental disturbance such as fires, assess the suitability of various control tools including baits, and quantify the predator susceptibility of species will be integral to informing the response.
Over the past four years, significant progress has been made towards improving control efforts for feral cats in Australia. However, there is still a lot of work to do. Ongoing investment by the Australian Government in science, control tools and coordination will help tackle this significant threat to Australia’s native wildlife and contribute to achieving the Threatened Species Strategy’s Year Five targets.
You can see how Australia is tracking in the Threatened Species Strategy Year Three Progress Report.
Oliver Tester. Image: Office of the Threatened Species Commissioner
For further information
Oliver Tester - ThreatenedSpeciesCommissioner@awe.gov.au
Top image: Wandiyali safe haven, one of 10 new safe havens under the Threatened Species Strategy. Image: Oliver Tester
Professor John Woinarski of Charles Darwin University discusses the importance of averting extinctions of less charismatic animals.
The 2019–20 wildfires have severely impacted animals of all major species groups. Here, national experts on mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs and freshwater fish and crayfish present some of the key challenges for each group and how these will influence management and research priorities in the aftermath of the fires.
Cultural fire management is the way that Indigenous people have used fire to care for Country for thousands of years, and it continues today. The devastation wreaked by the 2019–20 bushfires across millions of hectares was a wake-up call for Australia and the world. Oliver Costello from the Firesticks Alliance explains how the fires demonstrated the need to listen to and care for Country.
Australia has one of the highest rates of plant endemism of any country globally. After the catastrophic fire season of 2019–20, Dr Rachael Gallagher and Professor David Keith are leading two teams to find out which species and ecological communities are most in need of immediate recovery.
The 2019–20 bushfires burnt over 12 million hectares of south-eastern and south-western Australia, causing abrupt losses of biodiversity at a scale never seen before. Over a billion animals were estimated to have died, but the figure is likely much higher. The Australian Government’s Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel is guiding the work of prioritising species and ecological communities for emergency interventions and determining what those actions should be. Hub Deputy Director and Expert Panel member Professor Sarah Legge takes us though the hows and whys of this prioritisation, and some of its challenges.