War against feral predators is hotting up

The scale of Australia’s feral cat population explosion is such that it is already beyond belief.

They reckon there are somewhere between 2.1 million and 6.6 million ‘free range’ cats prowling the Australian countryside – every night. And according to a recent Weekend Australian article by Greg Bearup, they are killing 272 million native birds annually. (Another 61 million apparently go down the gullets of domestic cats.)

Bearup notes that 30 marsupial species have gone extinct since European introduction of cats and foxes to Australia, and 63 more are in peril.

Dead foxes and cat hanging on fence
A giant feral cat carcass hanging between a pair of culled foxes at Dutchman’s Stern Conservation Park in South Australia. Photo: ©Shutterstock

Stoats and rats

In New Zealand, introduced predators such as stoats and rats have wiped out proportionately more native creatures than anywhere else in the world, and the carnage continues, albeit abated.

Radical remedial measures are required, and after too many years of ineffective action, both countries have declared outright war on the ferals.

Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt wants 2 million feral animals culled by 2020 and is backing the establishment of lots more feral-free safe havens around the country.

Fenced sanctuaries

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is leading the charge with more than 20 cat and fox-proof fenced sanctuaries built or under construction in environmentally important areas. (The usual strategy is to clear the fenced areas – some enclosing more than 11,000 ha – of feral animals and then repopulate with endangered species.)

There is also talk of mass poisoning – a bit like the rabbit Calicivirus – but that would probably require inoculation of millions of domestic moggies. (Let’s get rid of the lot, I say.)

The New Zealand Government through the Department of Conservation (DOC) is taking an even more radical stand against the fury killers and wants the country predator-free by 2050. That means no more possums (yes, they are an official pest over there), rats or stoats.

More than 100 New Zealand islands have already been cleared of predators and trials are in progress to clear mainland sites without using fences.

Dead feral tom cat
This feral tom caught at Bowra weighed 7-8kg Photo: ©Mike Gilpin

The Bowra example

Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary in the south-west corner of Queensland is part of a former cattle station now under control of the AWC. I was there in early June and witnessed a small-scale example of the feral cat explosion.

A three-month trapping program about a year ago involving 10 traps and 10 motion cameras snared just three cats. In the five days I was there this year, volunteer caretaker Mike Gilpin put out six traps and caught four cats – including a huge tom he reckoned at 7-8kg.

“They are extremely cunning and clever animals, and quickly learn to detour around baited cage traps. There are more effective methods to deal with them,” he said with some frustration.

Footnote: Stage 1 of the world’s longest feral cat-proof fence has been completed at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. Click the following link to donate toward the AWC’s $1 million Feral Cat Challenge.

Natural Images 2018


©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.



  • David Mead June 18, 2018 at 4:50 PM Reply

    Great story Tony and it might be a bit macabre but I love dead cat photos.
    I myself have just returned from a trip across to Burketown, down to Boulia and home to Cooktown in a fairly decent circuit of dry country birding. Unfortunately saw many cats in the middle of nowhere.
    To add to Qld’s feral cat problem, a couple of quick trips up through Lakefield National Park and quiet birding around some hidden lagoons, leaves one worrying for there own safety with the incredible amount of ‘tractored’ country by feral pigs. By the end of the dry, every billabong or watercourse looks the same every year, destroyed!

    • Tony Neilson June 19, 2018 at 2:18 PM Reply

      My introduction to the feral cat problem in Queensland was on a trip up Cape York with Chook Crawford a few years ago. We were looking for scarlet honeyeaters in the mangroves at Marina Plains when he spotted a number of kittens hiding in the swamp. Suffice to say, they didn’t last long.

      • Ian Gibson December 9, 2018 at 7:27 AM Reply

        Hi Tony and David, agree totally. This Country is plagued with feral cats, dogs ,pigs, toads etc . If Governments of any persuasion have any environmental morals at all then they should stump up some serious funding to rid the Country of these feral animals. Seems they can waste our taxes on other nebulous causes.

  • Rex Whitehead June 18, 2018 at 11:07 PM Reply

    I agree with you David. I also hate cats, or any other feral, that predates, on our wildlife.
    A few years ago, I was visiting a friends property in the Boulia area. I went out spotlighting one night, and shot, 37 cats.
    I saw more than that, but due to the long grass at the time, many escaped to kill another day.
    I’m not holding my breath, waiting for the Government, to get on top of the feral cat situation though.

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