A Brief History of Feral Cats in Tasmania

Cats have been in Australia, at least since European settlement, and may have arrived with the Dutch
shipwrecks in the 17th century. By the 1850s, feral cats had become an established danger to the natives of Australia. Intentional releases on mainland Australia were made in the late 1800s in the hope that cats would control rabbits, rats and mice.

Cats were brought to Tasmania as domestic animals by early European explorers and settlers. Some of these cats escaped or were abandoned and a feral population became established. Feral cats are now widespread throughout the state, with sightings occurring in such remote areas as southwest Tasmania and the central highlands. (www.parks.tas.gov.au/‎)
For management purposes, cats are divided into three categories — domestic, stray and feral — although individual cats may move between categories. Domestic cats are owned and cared for, whilst stray cats are those found roaming cities, towns and some rural holdings, living off of human byproduct.

Feral cats, which survive without any human contact or assistance, are the main target of control programs.

Ecology

Feral cats are solitary and predominantly nocturnal, spending most of the day in the safety of a shelter such as a burrow, log or rock pile. Rabbits have aided their spread, by providing food and burrows for shelter. Males usually occupy a home range of ten square kilometres but this may be larger if food supplies are scarce.

Feral cats are carnivores and can survive with limited access to water, as they use moisture from their prey. They generally eat small mammals, but also catch birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects, taking prey up to the size of a brush-tail possum. In pastoral regions, they feed largely on young rabbits, but in other areas feral cats prey mainly on native animals.

After around a year, cats can breed in any season. They have up to two litters of about four kittens each year, but few of the young survive.

Feral Cat's Diet

Kylie Cahill  from the School of Zoology, University of Tasmania studied the diet of the feral cat population in 2005. The following quotes are directly taken from an abstract of her writings.
This article summarises results of a dietary study of 91 feral cats captured from around Tasmania and euthanased as part of a routine feral animal control programme.

The analysis identified an extensive array of species that are preyed upon by feral cats, including several species endemic to Tasmania. Organisms identified in this study included mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and even plant materials.

In many cases, it was difficult to identify material damaged by digestive processes, and therefore often not possible to identify what species the material originated from.

Mammals- Several mammal species were identified, of which the majority were rabbits, rats and mice. It was not possible to determine whether the rats and mice were of native or feral species. A juvenile brushtail possum was also identified. One stomach was found to contain the ear, fur and flesh of another cat. Cannibalism in cats is not unknown, particularly when resources are scarce; however, this cat may have been consumed as a result of scavenging rather than direct predation.

Passerine birds- Feral cats will climb trees after prey, so a wide range of bird species is susceptible to predation. Only two passerine species could be positively identified as prey from stomach contents: superb blue wren (Malurus cyaneus) and New Holland honeyeater (Phylidonyris The Tasmanian Naturalist (2006) 128: 55-56 56 THE TASMANIAN NATURALIST novaehollandiae).
 Evidence of other passerines was noted, but digestive damage prevented identification.

Seabirds - Feral cats will prey on seabirds, particularly on islands. Several stomachs from cats caught on Bruny Island contained the remains of little penguins (Eudyptula minor). Anecdotal evidence suggests little penguins are preyed upon in several coastal colonies around Tasmania, as
well as on offshore islands around the state.

Reptiles- Several skink species and one snake species were found in cat stomachs from around the state. One stomach was found to contain 27 pregnant female tussock skinks (Pseudemoia pagenstecheri). This particular species is currently listed as vulnerable due to habitat
destruction, and this observation leads to particular concern regarding conservation of this species.
Invertebrates - Several types of invertebrates were identified as important dietary items among Tasmanian feral cats; however, most were only identified to family level due to digestive damage. Taxa recorded include moths, spiders, beetles and crickets. Several stomachs contained the pest
moth species Abantiades hyalinatus.

Plant material - Plant material appeared frequently in stomach contents and included grass, sticks, leaves and seeds. It has been suggested in previous studies that vegetation may be consumed to assist with internal parasite control, or even as a source of moisture; however the amounts
of plant material found by this study do not support this. Instead this study would suggest that many occurrences of plant material ingestion were as an indirect consequence of prey consumption, rather than direct consumption.

The study showed that the feeding habits of Tasmanian feral cats are as opportunistic as feral cats found on mainland Australia. There was no evidence found to suggest that cats have selective dietary tendencies, or that they do not scavenge. This type of diet ensures that feral cats have the potential to survive even the bleakest conditions as long as some food-source is still available, as a cat will simply switch prey when its preferred food-source is unavailable.

What is their impact?

There is clear evidence that feral cats have had a heavy impact on island fauna. On Macquarie Island, for example, feral cats caused the extinction of a subspecies of the red-fronted parakeet. On the mainland, they have probably contributed to the extinction of many small to medium sized mammals and ground-nesting birds in the arid zone, and seriously affected bilby, mala and numbat populations. In some instances, feral cats have directly threatened the success of recovery
programs for endangered species.

Feral cats carry infectious diseases such as toxoplasmosis and sarcosporidiosis, which can be transmitted to native animals, domestic livestock and humans. If rabies were to be accidentally
Introduced into Australia, there is a high risk that feral cats would act as carriers of the disease

Can they be controlled?

Conventional control techniques have been successful in eradicating feral cats from some offshore islands.

Due to a very successful program conducted between the Commonwealth and Tasmania with funds from the Natural Heritage Trust, feral cats have been successfully removed from Macquarie Island. This has protected the long-term survival of colonies of nesting seabirds, including albatrosses. One bird species, the grey petrel, has started breeding on the island again for the first time in over 100 years.

On the mainland, management is more difficult because feral cats are shy of traps, do not take baits readily and generally avoid human contact, making them hard to shoot. Control techniques must also not harm domestic cats. Even if cats are removed from an area, it is quickly recolonised.

Barrier fencing, combined with eradication inside the fences, has proved to be effective for protecting endangered species that are being reintroduced. For example, fences are now used to exclude feral cats and other predators from bilby colonies in Queensland.

Feral Cat Hunter App

The Feral Cat Hunter app was created to improve awareness, and further educate the general public of the feral cat problem that exists across Tasmania and the rest of Australia. It aims to highlight the dangers that feral cats pose to our native animals, particularly our endangered species.

Game modes:
Story Mode- Protecting native animals in different states, collecting stars to progress.
Arcade Mode- Get the highest score and compete against friends.

Art :
Watercolour style painting, 42 species of animal, 7 states, 42 levels, including; urban, desert, forest, rainforest, marsh and beach landscapes.

Screen shots