Cats, and Other Ferals

Sometimes Man does not care properly for the animals under his care; they are allowed to roam at will, escape or are released to fend for themselves. Some perish, some just survive, and some flourish. Thanks to colonisation a host of feral animals are now part of the Australian landscape even though Europeans have only been here for a little over two hundred years - a miniscule amount of time compared to the occupation by Aboriginal peoples. It is interesting to note that recent DNA research suggests that dingoes are a feral version of a dog introduced some 5,000 years ago from Indonesia or SE Asia. In general, feral animals produce problems which sooner or later we have to face; or more correctly ought to face. The existence of feral animals is usually at the expense of the native wildlife.

Cats

Cats have probably been our pets for millenia. The relationship between man and cat is only surpassed by that between man and dog - although this could be a matter of opinion. Cats were almost certainly introduced into Australia in the early days of European settlement. Feral cats in Australia are ferocious predatory carnivores living on birds, mammals, marsupials, frogs, reptiles, and invertebrates; all of which are generally smaller than the cats themselves. They can be found in all Australian ecosystems including the dry areas. Of course, cats don't discriminate; they prey on exotic species (such as rabbits, mice, rats and a variety of birds) as well as our native wildlife. Rabbits (another feral pest) were a favourite prey of feral cats but now, because of the Calici Virus, they have had to find replacements. There has been no study of feral cats in the Basin area but anecdotal evidence tells us that there are many feral, stray and neglectd cats that take a substantial toll on local wildlife.

The definition of a feral cat is one which has no owner and survives without being fed by humans. In terms of predation there is little difference in behaviour between feral and stray cats. On their website the National Parks & Wildlife Service suggest that there are over 400,000 feral cats in NSW and 12 million in all Australia. If these numbers are anywhere near correct it is obvious that feral cats must consume huge numbers of Australian wildlife. Unfortunately there is no natural predator of cats to keep their numbers down. The number of feral cats killed by humans is insignificant.

In May 1991 the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service (ANPWS) held a workshop on the impact of cats on native wildlife. Papers were presented on the situation (as well as was known) in the Australian States and in New Zealand. The meeting concluded (amongst other things) that cats are found in most areas of Australia, are a significant threat to wildlife, effect the success of some recovery programs, and certainly cause the decline and extinction of native animals on islands. In city and suburban areas domestic cats kill millions of birds and thousands of native mammals, such as Ring-tail possums, every year. The proceedings of this conference have been published (see bibliography below) with an extensive reference list.

Domestic or Pet Cats

While the loss of suitable habitat to urban development is the main reason for native species decline the addition of the domestic cat into the equation drives many species into local extinction. The hunting instinct of cats is so strong that even those that are well fed by their owners sometimes prey on native wildlife. This occurs when a domestic cat is not confined to its own house and garden but is allowed to roam at will. Most predation occcurs under cover of darkness. To protect local native wildlife domestic cats should be kept inside at night. An even better arrangement is to house domestic cats in a cat-run. If you want more information about a cat-run check the Contact List at the end of this section. The Companion Animals Act means that cats born in NSW after July 1999 (and those that have had a change of owner after this date) must be microchipped. and registered for life. Such legislation should be introduced in other Australian states. Data should be produced to show how effective microchipping is in reducing the number of stray and feral cats (and hence in reducing wildlife slaughter).

The Native Animal Network Association (NANA) has issued a pamphlet which highlights the issues associated with domestic (i.e. pet) cats. Here are some points from this pamphlet. If you would like a copy check the contact list below.

cat cartoon
  1. Are all cats hunters of wildlife? Studies show that domestic cats hunt many species of wildlife. Some domestic cats are persistent hunters, some are more opportunistic. Small ground dwelling birds (e.g.the beautiful Blue wren) are hunted and are now rare. Small nocturnal animals (e.g. sugar gliders and ringtail possums) are also hunted.
  2. Native animals in your area are suffering! Cats are most active at the same time (dawn and dusk) as much of our wildlife. Confining domestic cats to house and garden, or a cat-run, will protect the cat and the wildlife. Studies show that cats are happy in a cattery or cat-run.
  3. Is it cruel to confine your cat? If you provide all their needs, desexed cats are happy to live in a suitable enclosed area. Such cats do not have an innate need to roam. They need exercise and play as well as lots of sleep each day.

Indian mynahs

The Indian, Asian or Common Mynah (sometimes spelt Myna) is an introduced species of about 24 cm in size (bill tip to tail tip). It has a yellow bill, legs and feet, black head and throat, brown body, and white lower parts. There are white wing patches which can be seen when in flight. It is a noisy, agressive, gregarious territorial species which is commonly found in urban areas much to the disadvantage of those native birds which live in such areas. Go to the car-park of a shopping centre and you will probably see a small group of mynahs fearlessly walking (they walk rather than hop) amongst the cars picking up scraps of food that we humans have discarded. Commonly mynahs spend a lot of time on the ground and are not great fliers.

Mynahs were first introduced to Australia (Melbourne) in 1862, and were subsequently introduced first to Sydney and then to the cane regions of north Queensland. The reason for their introduction was to control insects. Since then they have spread to most towns and cities on the East Coast. The problem many people have with mynahs is that they take over the nesting hollows of native birds (such as the local parrots) and even those of small marsupials such as sugar gliders - and they breed rapidly which compounds the problem! In extreme cases mynahs will kill and/or eject young birds from nesting hollows. A consequence of the increase in mynah numbers is a decrease in the local biodiversity. It is for all these reasons that mynahs are strongly disliked by many people and of considerable concern to environmentals, ecologists, native bird lovers, etc. It is for good reason that they are known as "flying cane toads" and regarded as yet another ecological disaster. Researchers at the Australian National University have developed a mynah trap and are currently testing this in Canberra suburbs. In time they expect to sell this trap to the public.

Mynahs have been in the news for a long while. Australian author and poet C.J. Dennis wrote a poem about them in 1933. Here is the second verse which describes the mynah quite well:

So I swagger an' strut an' I cuss an' I swagger;
I'm wise to the city's hard way.
A bit of a bloke an' a bit of a bragger;
I've always got plenty to say.
Learned thro' knockin' about since my people came out
From the land at the back of Bombay.

Very recently (November 11, 2003), a segment of the prime-time Channel Nine program "A Current Affair" (hosted by Ray Martin) discussed the Indian mynah problem. Amongst other things the audience learnt about the recently-formed Central Coast Indian Mynah Action Group which seeks to reduce the mynah population in that area. The creation of such a group indicates the concern felt by many people. In time more such groups will come into being.

Foxes (still to come)


Bibliography

Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service The Impact of Cats on Native Wildlife ANPWS Endangered Species Unit 1991{ISBN 0 642 16800 8}

Contact Information

Cat-run information, cat awareness sign and NANA pamphlet; N. Webb 4443 5080
Native Animal Network Association (NANA) The website is www.nana.asn.au


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