Joint mission on feral cats
WAFarmers and Perth NRM have sent a joint submission to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development regarding the declaration of a declared pest.
Both groups are in support for the feral cat (Felis catus) to be a declared pest in WA under section 22(2) of the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007, as listing the species as a declared pest will clarify legal uncertainties regarding the management and control of feral cat populations, and provide protection against several legal risks.
The impetus on declaring feral cats as a pest under the BAM Act (2007) is the additional support to recognised biosecurity groups across the State.
WAFarmers envisions the DPIRD will play a critical role in advising and supporting feral cat control through these groups. The addition of the feral cat as a declared pest should open additional resources for long-term control and eradication of local and regional populations.
Below are the responses provided against the assessment criteria in determining whether feral cats will be a declared pest under the BAM Act (2007).
Criterion one: Identifiable
Feral and semi-wild cats are easily identifiable but may not be easily distinguished from each other. Both exhibit similar characteristics of aggression or skittishness towards people and are often adaptable to surviving in their local environment.
However, semi-wild cats may show patterns and colouration more often seen in domestic cats rather than the overall feral population.
While feral cats are easily identifiable, there may be chances of mistaken identity by those unfamiliar with native mammals of a similar size or habit, such as chuditch.
Criterion two: Presence in WA
Feral cats occupy almost every available habitat across WA, with the exception of very wet or extremely dry areas. There are populations of feral, semi-wild and domestic cats across the Swan region.
Feral cats are common throughout the region, while semi-wild cats are more common in built areas or areas frequented for dumping unwanted kittens and cats.
Domestic cats, if allowed to roam, can have a home range beyond their owner’s residence and can extend several square kilometres.
Criterion three: Potential for adverse effects
extinction rates across the country.
The impact of feral cats within an ecosystem is far reaching with excessive predation on native birds, mammals and reptiles. Cats are also sufficient hunters and can out-compete native predators within an area.
Cat predation or competition has threatened the population and distribution of many native species. Feral cats pose threats to agricultural production by soiling grain and vegetable stocks, and by spreading potentially harmful diseases to stock animals and spoiling meat and poultry products.
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is a particular concern, as it spreads toxoplasmosis among humans and livestock. Toxoplasmosis can pass from cat faeces to sheep, cattle and other livestock resulting in illness, death and abortion. In humans, the parasite can be potentially harmful to those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women.
Feral cats also host other parasites and zoonoses including giardia, cryptosporidium and dermatophytosis. These can be easily transmissible to and among people (particularly the young). Feral cats can also soil public and private areas, increasing environmental health hazards to the broader community.
Criterion four: Potential for establishment or spread or increase in numbers
Feral cats already occupy 99 per cent of Australia, though are absent on most offshore islands within the Swan region. Populations of feral and semi-wild cats can rapidly increase in areas where food abundance becomes available. Urban sprawl can exacerbate the issue due to increased waste and vermin associated with new developments across landscape.
Local governments and animal welfare groups work to decrease the dumping of domestic cats and improve sterilisation rates in order to curb cat population growth. However, feral cat populations will continue to increase given the accessibility of food resources across the region and the ability to breed without hindrances.
Criterion five: Subject to current or planned regulatory activities
The Cat Act (2011) details regulations surrounding ownership and overall management of semi-wild and domestic cats. Local governments, which may also administer their own policies or local laws on cat ownership, enforce the legislation and its regulations.
However, the legislation targets responsible cat ownership through mandatory sterilisation, use of cat curfews under the discretion of local councils, and penalties for dumping unwanted animals. It does not provide regulatory support for the eradication and ongoing control of feral cats, a critical gap the declaration under the BAM Act (2007) should address.
There are several feral cat control measures in place and activities happening across the Swan region. The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, community Landcare groups and private landholders implement these activities.
The inclusion of feral cats as a declared species under the BAM Act (2007) will support additional activities around feral cat control, and provide justification for targeting feral cats through government funding.
Feral cats prey on native birds, mammals, reptiles and rodents, including Rakali.