Feral Cats in Australia
Introduction and Background Information
Cats, felis catus, have been kept as pets for their companionship and their talent for hunting vermin. Cats have dwelt in Australia for at least two hundred years, since the first European settlement in 1788. However the Aboriginal people claim that cats have been on the continent for longer. Some have suggested that traders first brought cats to Australia five hundred years ago from Indonesia and other south-east Asian countries. The late 1850s recorded the establishment of feral cat colonies. During the late 1800s, cats were deliberately released into the wild to manage introduced species such as rabbits, mice and rats. (Department of Environment and Heritage, Aust. Govt. 2004, ABC 2009) Feral cats are lost or abandoned domestic cats that have become undomesticated after being separated from society and human interaction. It is estimated that there are approximately 12 million feral cats in Australia. Feral cats are found throughout Australia from the tropics to the harsh Australian outback. Feral cats prefer open dry habitats such as grasslands to closed forests and are rarely found in wet rainforest areas such as Daintree in tropical Queensland. Cats are territorial creatures and will often defend their territory. However feral cats do roam around in search of food. (Department of Environment and Heritage, Aust. Govt. 2004, Native Animal Network Association, Weir, Leanne 1994,) Hunting Behaviours
Cats are primarily nocturnal animals. Feral cats prefer to conserve their energy during the day and to hunt at night. Cats are natural hunters. Females often teach their kittens how and what to hunt. Even when cats are satiated, cats will hunt for pleasure and sport rather than to consume their prey. Their acute vision helps them to identify their prey. They are also sensitive to sound and can detect the slightest movement of their prey. Their retractable claws allow cats to climb high places such as trees to acquire their quarry. Cats also possess the gift of agility and speed and are stealthy while hunting. Cats necessitate large quantities of live animals to survive successfully. Insufficient diet can regulate the survival rate of the cats. However, cats also eat carrion if fresh meat is not available. (ASPCA 2009, Department of Environment and Heritage, Aust. Govt. 2004) Breeding
Cats breed approximately twice a year usually between the months of September and March. Each litter consist typically of four kittens. However, many feral kittens do not survive as they have predators such as the wedge-tailed eagle. Success of the feral cat and the affect on Wildlife
Feral cats are carnivorous creatures. Apart from rabbits, mice and rats, their diet includes native birds, reptiles, insects, fish and amphibians. In Roxby Downs, the stomach contents of a feral cat revealed that the cat had eaten twenty four painted dragons, three bearded dragons, two earless dragons, three stripped skinks, one mouse and one zebra finch within twenty four hours. Feral cats thrive in harsh arid environments, as they do not need water to survive; instead these cats survive on the moisture of their prey. They have adapted to their environment over time making them more successful at survival. For instance desert cats are often a brown or orange to help them blend in with the environment and in doing so are more effective hunters. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2002) Feral cats often compete with other predators such as dingos and foxes and predatory birds for food and shelter. However there is a low rate of competition and so the population of feral cats have grown. (Department of Environment and Heritage, Aust. Govt. 2004) Problems for Australian Wildlife
Evidence has shown that feral cats have contributed to the decline and extinction of many Australian animals. In New South Wales, feral cats have contributed to the decline of small native animals and ground...
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