Feral Cat impacts

To: "" <>
Subject: Feral Cat impacts
From: colin trainor <>
Date: Tue, 8 Jan 2013 18:52:23 +0930

Feral cats' devastating threat to native animals laid bare

                December 29, 2012
                Nicky Phillips
                    Science Reporter
THE rats never stood a chance.  It took a pair of feral cats 
just four days to gobble an entire population of native pale field rats 
in a conservation enclosure on the edge of Arnhem Land.

        Scientists and ecologists have long suspected feral cats were
 partly to blame for the dramatic decline of native animals across 
northern Australia over the past 20 years. But preliminary results from a
 comprehensive study, funded by the Australian Research Council and led 
by the non-profit Australian Wildlife Conservancy, reveal just how 
devastating the predators can be.

        ''We had strong suspicions they were an issue, but we really 
needed to confirm that,'' said the conservancy's head scientist, Dr 
Sarah Legge.


                Wongalara Sanctuary manager  Chris Whatley and his daughter 
Melissa with the electric  fence. Photo: Peter Rae


        On a former cattle station turned wildlife sanctuary, the 
conservancy has built two 10-hectare enclosures, each divided into two 
plots, to conduct their study.


        One ''control'' plot allowed feral cats access in and out, 
while the second ''experimental'' plot was surrounded by a six-metre 
electrified fence to keep cats out.

        Into each of the four plots, the group released about 20 pale
 field rats, which have been regionally extinct in Arnhem Land for about
 15 years and had to be sourced from Quoin Island, off the Northern 
Territory coast.

        ''[Then] we followed their fate,'' said Dr Legge.

        It took feral cats about a month to find one of the control 
plots. When the researchers tried trapping the rats, or locating them by
 their radio collars a week later they found none.

        ''Once the [cats] knew there was good feed in there, they 
were right into it,'' said senior wildlife ecologist Dr Katherine Tuft.

        Motion sensor cameras had captured images of two cats, she 
said. ''Once they have decided there is something they like eating they 
put an awful lot of effort into getting the last rat,'' said Dr Legge. 
''I think that's partly why they've been so devastating.'' she said.


While the rats in the second control plot survived better, the enclosure's 
first feral cat arrived in  late October.

        ''So, we'll have to wait and see what its done,'' said Dr Tuft.

        Both the plots that excluded cats now have thriving rat 
populations that have produced young. The numbers of reptiles have also 

        While the preliminary results show the impact feral cats have
 on the small rodents, the researchers will also study whether the 
presence of cats prevents the recovery of the population.

        The research team, which includes scientists from CSIRO, the 
University of Tasmania and Charles Darwin University, plan to run the 
experiment for another year, and may introduce other native animals to 
the cat-free plots.

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