Feral predators such as cats and foxes have caused the extinction of many native mammals and remain the most serious threat to the remaining mammal species - especially when combined with mismanaged fire and introduced herbivores.
“Ultimately we want to recommend the best combination of tools for any given landscape and situation to reduce the impacts of feral predators on threatened species and other native wildlife,” says Sarah Legge, who leads Project 1.1 with John Woinarski.
“This project aims to be useful for a wide range of environmental managers, such as state and territory agencies, NGO’s, Indigenous Protected Areas and other groups who manage and care for land, like pastoralists.”
As well as collaborating with project partners to interrogate existing datasets, the project will carry out strategic research to fill knowledge gaps and add value to a variety of field programs being carried out by land management organisations across the country.
Such field programs include landscape-scale baiting for cats using newly developed techniques, integrated control of the introduced herbivores (especially rabbits), testing of new traps like the laser-guided grooming traps for cats, and training livestock guardian dogs to protect threatened species.
“Maremma dogs have been used as livestock guardian dogs for centuries, and proved enormously successful looking after domestic animals like sheep and chickens. The research aims to use these dogs to protect small populations of threatened species from foxes and feral cats.
“We’re also exploring the impacts of fire and grazing on feral cats and foxes, because habitat structure affects their hunting success. So if you can ‘thicken up’ a habitat it probably provides some relief to native mammals.”
The project is of personal interest to Sarah, who has worked with cats in the past, although in quite different contexts.
“My very first two jobs were with cat species and I’ve always liked them. I’ve worked with Scottish wildcats as well as lions in Tanzania. Most recently, I worked with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy on feral cats in the Kimberley.
“The welfare of any animal is important, regardless of whether it’s feral or not. The issue is simply that Australia has to make a choice between having a country of feral foxes, cats and rabbits - or a country that still has its unique native fauna.”
Sarah finds working with such a large and diverse group through the Threatened Species Hub exciting.
“There’s a really great energy amongst everyone involved, and a collective sense that we need to work together to do something about feral cats and foxes before it’s too late.
“Our research team involves a large number of individuals and organisations, so as well as drawing on an enormous body of expertise, our research findings will also have large reach.
“We’re working closely with the Department of the Environment and the Threatened Species Commissioner’s office, including via the feral cat taskforce. We’re really cognisant of what they’re working to achieve, and of aligning our program to help deliver against those national targets,” says Dr Legge.
Photo: Feral cat in Western Australia (Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0)
Karajarri Rangers are leading a Threatened Species Recovery Hub research project to investigate how different fire management approaches affect biodiversity. The first field trip took place in April this year, when a team of 16 rangers, support staff and scientists journeyed to the Edgar Ranges for eight days of wildlife monitoring. Hub researcher Sarah Legge worked with the rangers to compile this report from the field.
Cissy Gore-Birch is a member of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub’s steering committee and the Chair of its Indigenous Reference Group. The Indigenous Reference Group was established to assist hub leaders and project teams to strengthen the engagement and participation of Indigenous people in the hub’s activities and research projects. Cissy recently attended the Species of the Desert Festival on the Paruku Indigenous Protected Area, where she spoke about both threatened and culturally important species, and increasing the voice of Indigenous people in environmental policies and research.
Dr Sally Box, the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Commissioner, talks about the importance of working with Indigenous groups to conserve Australia’s threatened species.
Researchers from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub are calling on citizen scientists to help them learn more about Australia’s possums and gliders by recording sightings in a new, free app. Dr Rochelle Steven from the University of Queensland is passionate about Australia’s possums and gliders and believes people in the community can do a lot to help support conservation, especially in urban areas.
There are 27 different types of possums and gliders in Australia. They have a huge variety of sizes, shapes and appearances. We’ve compiled a profile on every species here. One quarter of our possums and gliders are listed as threatened under Australian environmental law. Help their conservation, be a citizen scientist: you can record sightings of possums from your local areas in the free 'CAUL Urban Wildlife App'.