In Australia, the most significant driver of mammal extinctions has been predation by feral cats and foxes. Compounded by inappropriate fire regimes, these feral predators continue to pose a major threat to dozens of surviving mammal species.
Number of birds killed by feral cats in Australia each year
Number of reptiles killed by feral cats in Australia each year
Number of native animals saved from feral predators by AWC’s network of conservation fences each year
AWC is leading the charge against feral cats and foxes by building a network of large feral predator-free fenced havens; conducting best practice predator control beyond the fence (including ground-breaking research into their ecology); and investing in development of a long-term genetic solution.
There is now broad consensus that a network of large, feral predator-free fenced areas must form part of any strategy to prevent further extinctions of Australian wildlife. AWC manages more cat- and fox-free land than any other organisation on mainland Australia, including five of the six largest fenced areas.
Outside of fenced areas, AWC is helping develop and implement best practice feral predator control. Direct control includes a range of techniques such as trapping, shooting, and Indigenous tracking. Indirect control includes managing ground cover (for example through de-stocking and prescribed burning) to promote shelter for wildlife and reduce the impact of predation.
AWC is conducting the most extensive research program into feral cats anywhere in the country. A series of significant findings in northern Australia uncovered interactions between the behaviour of feral cats and fire patterns – with implications for fire management across the north. Current research priorities focus on understanding the relative densities of cats and foxes, and how control of one species might affect population density of the other.
Ultimately, this substantial, multi-year project aims to establish whether it is possible to suppress populations of feral predators to a level such that threatened mammals like Bilbies and Bettongs can survive without a fence. If it is possible, it will likely require intensive, ongoing efforts to control cats and foxes. This crucial research will help improve the effectiveness of control strategies.
AWC has signed an agreement with CSIRO to explore whether emerging genetic technologies can be used to effectively remove feral cats from the landscape. Initial priorities include sequencing and mapping sex chromosomes of feral cats, and undertaking the extensive research required to better understand the population ecology and mating behaviour of feral cats.
This information is critical to ensure the spread of any genetic control. Gene drive technology is a long-term prospect requiring years of research and development, but may represent our best chance at dealing with the scourge of feral cats.
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