feral cats

To: Alan Cowan <>, "<>" <>
Subject: feral cats
From: David Rees <>
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2017 07:10:12 +0000

I am not complacent about feral cats, just realistic.  Can you help me and name a species of bird on continental Australia for which the cat is clearly a major threatening process or were cats have caused the extinction of a bird species?  We are lucky that our land birds are relatively not naive to land based predators, unlike say in NZ.  Australian birds evolved with Possums, Sugar gliders, quolls, Goannas, tree snakes etc. etc. to deal with. In NZ there was nothing.

There are bigger issues of the sort I have previously mentioned and it frustrates me deeply that people are not looking wider for the things that could wreak this place big time.  

As I've said before, the best way to eradicate wildlife is the eradicate habitat, a bare paddock that was once forest, woodland etc. does not support many cats, or birds etc. for that matter.

I am not stretching the time cats have been here, 1788 is 229 years ago, those boats and the ones behind them would have had ships' cats (and rats and mice, don't forget them), they all did.  It is quite possible that cats have been in Australia for longer that that - given earlier Dutch ship wreaks, French research trips around Australia and the regular sea trade from Indonesia (an historic cat keeping nation) with northern Australia for centuries prior to European settlement, to name several possibilities. 

Early on in the settlement cats were not pampered, they lived on the edge, on our dumps on scraps and soon they wandered off for pickings elsewhere.  I suspect spread into the interior was very rapid, following initial arrival.  Being an animal with origins in SW Asia/ north Africa our hot dry interior was not a major problem as it is not now.  The bulk of food in the form of readily available small reptiles and large insects and yes to a lesser extent birds.   I need to do more research, but if my memory serves me right there are reports of indigenous people noting cats in their country before they saw Europeans. 

Feral cats in remote locations clearly need nothing from us and those populations are self-sustaining.  If there were no domestic cats in Australia tomorrow it would make no difference to such populations. 

'Indulgent people' did not need to bring cats here, they basically brought themselves here, mainly as stow-aways on ships that no one cared much about, given the 'bio-security protocols' of the day, like the rats and mice.  Even with modern protocols, exotic animals can still arrive as stow-aways. 

If novel control measures become available that are cost effective and can meet national and international regulatory and public consultation requirements, esp. of the gene technology type then fine, use them.  No sure thing it will work on a continent wide basis.  The various 'goes' at rabbits come to mind.  Then there are the rats and mice - OK they are going to have a go on Lord Howe and I wish them success.  Rats have caused a number of bird extinctions on Australian territory (islands), many more than cats, have they not?

I suspect the reason why the cat influenza virus worked on an isolated population of cats on a sub- Antarctic island was that because of its isolation the place was/ had become naturally clear of it and the cats had no immunity.  Continental Australia with its big diverse feral cat population and smaller domestic cat population has regular waves of cat influenza going through it, not sure the same approach would work as well here. 


On Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 4:07 PM, Alan Cowan <> wrote:
I wish I could share David Rees's complacency about feral cats.
To say the cat problem is 200 years old is stretching it a bit. The numbers of people - and therefore of feral cats - in the early days of settlement was insignificant compared with the present populations, and I don't imagine many people could indulge themselves with pampered pets when life was a struggle to survive. That must have been the situation for at least the first 100 years or more, I would guess.
As I stated, the cats on Marion Island were eradicated by introducing a cat influenza virus. 
Alan Cowan

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