Joint mis­sion on feral cats

Countryman - - WOOL -

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.

Pic­ture: Perth NRM

Feral cats prey on na­tive birds, mam­mals, rep­tiles and ro­dents, in­clud­ing Rakali.

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