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Feral Cats

Feral Cats

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Published by draculavanhelsing
Factsheet
Factsheet

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: draculavanhelsing on Sep 26, 2010
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09/30/2010

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Feral cat ecology and control
A descendant o the Arican wild cat ( 
Felis silvestrislybica
 ), the common ‘house’ cat ( 
Felis catus
 ) has nowbeen domesticated or about 4000 years. Althoughthe domestic cat has a long history o association withhumans, it retains a strong hunting instinct and can easilyrevert to a wild (eral) state when abandoned or havingstrayed rom a domestic situation.Semi-eral cats live around dump sites, alleys or abandoned buildings, relying on humans by scavengingrubbish scraps and sheltering in abandoned structures.The true eral cat does not rely on humans at all, obtainingits ood and shelter rom the natural environment.
Declaration details
The eral cat is declared as a Class 2 species under the
Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002
. Declared species represent a threat to primaryindustries and natural resources, and have a social impacton other human activities.Legislation describes a eral cat as one that is not ed andkept by someone. The word ‘kept’ specically means thatthe cat is housed in a domestic situation.
Fact sheetDECLARED CLASS 2 PEST ANIMAL
PA26 July 2010
 
Description and general inormation
The eral cat diers little in appearance rom itsdomestic counterpart; however, when in good condition,the eral cat displays increased overall muscledevelopment, especially noticeable around the head,neck and shoulders, which gives the animal a morerobust appearance. The average body weight o maleeral cats is 3–6 kg, while emales weigh 2–4 kg. Bodyweights vary with condition, with some extremely largespecimens documented.Australian eral cats are predominantly short-haired,with coat colours that range between ginger, tabby,tortoiseshell, grey and black. White markings may bepresent on the eet, belly, chest and throat; completelywhite eral cats are extremely rare. In establishedpopulations, coat colours are the result o a natural,genetically selective process. Terrain, predators andthe ability to capture prey limit coat colours to thosethat provide the most suitable camouage and cause apredominance o these colours in subsequent ospring.Ginger cats are more likely to be ound in the semi-arid and desert areas, while grey and black specimensgenerally predominate in scrub and more heavilytimbered habitats.The eral cat is most active at night, with peak huntingactivity occurring soon ater sunset and in the early hoursbeore sunrise. At night the cat displays a distinctive greeneyeshine under spotlight, making it easily distinguishablerom other animals. During the day it will rest in anynumber o den sites, which may include hollow logs, denseclumps o grass, piles o debris, rabbit burrows, and eventhe hollow limbs o standing trees.The most obvious and characteristic eld signs o eralcats are their scats (droppings). Unlike the domestic cat,the eral cat does not bury its scats, but leaves themexposed at prominent sites to warn other cats o itsterritorial boundary.
History o introduction and dispersal
There is some evidence to suggest that the cat was presentin Australia long beore European settlement. This mayhave occurred as a result o Dutch shipwrecks and regular visits to northern Australia by early South-East Asianvessels as long as 500 years ago.Post-settlement dispersal resulted rom cats straying romareas o early colonisation. In the late 19th and early 20thcenturies, large numbers o cats were purposely releasedin many rural areas to combat plague numbers o rabbits.Unwanted cats continue to be released into urban andrural areas by irresponsible pet owners.The eral cat is now present Australia-wide, thrivingunder all climatic extremes and in vastly dierent typeso terrain.
Population dynamics
Male cats attain sexual maturity at about 12 months,whereas emales are capable o reproduction atapproximately seven months. Annually, and under idealconditions, an adult emale can produce up to threelitters—each o usually our kittens, but varying romtwo to seven.As the breeding instinct is triggered by the increasinglength o daylight, litters are less requent in winter.Most reproduction occurs during the spring and summer months, and is generally limited to two litters per year.Birth ollows a gestation period o 65 days, and kittensmay be reared in a single den site or may be requentlyshited to other sites within the emale’s home range.Family and litter bonding begin to break down when thekittens are approximately seven months old. The emale’sability to bear litters does not decrease with age, soreproduction continues or the course o her lie.
Social organisation and behaviour
Feral cats maintain stable home ranges, the sizes o which depend upon the relative abundance o ood andthe availability o suitable den sites. Dominant male catsmay have territories o up to 8 km
2
, while the territories o emales are smaller and may even be halved while kittensare being reared.Scent glands are present on the chin, at the corners o themouth, and in the anal region. Territorial boundaries aremaintained by scent marking with the cheek glands, pole-clawing, urinating and leaving exposed aecal deposits.
2 Feral cat ecology and control
 
Although eral cats are oten thought o as being solitaryanimals, studies show this behaviour is generally limitedto hunting activities. At other times eral cats display adegree o social interaction that peaks during the breedingseason. Group behaviour has been observed in semi-eral populations, and it has been suggested that suchbehaviour is exhibited also in eral populations.Groups usually comprise several related adult emales,their young o both sexes, and an adult male—whoserange may include other groups o emales. Young emalesusually remain in a group, while young males either leaveor are driven rom the group as they reach sexual maturity.
Efects on wildlie
The energy expended by an adult male cat requires itto consume 5–8% o its body weight in prey per day,while emales raising kittens require 20%. Based onthese gures, one study concluded that 375 eral catson Macquarie Island would consume 56 000 rabbitsand 58 000 sea birds per year. Where present on themainland, rabbits may comprise up to 40% o a eralcat’s diet. Cats are successul as a control mechanismonly when rabbit densities are low. At other times catpredation does little to halt the build-up or spread o rabbit populations; rabbits merely help to support alarger number o cats. When seasonal shortages o rabbits occur there is a corresponding rise in the number o native animals taken by cats.The eral cat is an opportunistic predator, and dietarystudies have shown that small mammals, birds, reptiles,amphibians, insects and even sh can be taken as prey.Cat predation is particularly harmul in island situations,and a number o species have become extinct due tothe introduction o cats by early sealers and lighthousekeepers. On the mainland, native animals—which alreadysuer due to the destruction o their habitats by man andother introduced animals—may be endangered urther by cat predation. Actual competition or prey can cause adecline in the numbers o native predatory species such asquolls, eagles, hawks and reptiles.Not only do native animals bear the brunt o predation,but they also suer the eects o a parasite thatreproduces only in the intestine o the cat. This disease(toxoplasmosis) is particularly harmul to marsupials,which may develop blindness, respiratory disorders,paralysis, and suer the loss o ospring through abortionand stillbirths.
Exotic disease—rabies
Due to their widespread distribution, eral cats may proveto be a major vector or this atal viral disease i it ever enters Australia. Overseas studies have revealed thatwounds inicted by rabid cats are more dangerous thanthose caused by rabid dogs. While the bites o rabiddog are generally inicted on the arms and legs, the catattacks the head o its victim, biting and clawing viciously.These head and acial bites reduce the time taken or thevirus to enter the central nervous system, lessening thechance o success rom subsequent remedial treatment.
Control
Exclusion
Fencing is the only easible method o control when specialareas need protection rom cats. Feral cats have beensuccessully prevented rom climbing over netted encesthat use an electried wire mounted 15 cm rom the topand 10 cm outward rom the ence. Non-electried encingshould incorporate a netted ceiling, or a curved overhang,which prevents the cat rom climbing straight up and over the ence.
Shooting 
Night shooting is assisted by the cat’s distinctive, greeneyeshine. Cats have been successully attracted by the useo a ox whistle.
Poisoning 
Registration o the vertebrate pesticide sodiumuoroacetate (1080) is currently being sought or the controlo eral cats where conditions or its use are suitable.Audible recorded lures or eral cats and other predatorsare available through a number o sources. Theserecordings mimic the distress call o a small animal andcan be use to draw a predator to a bait or trap site.
3 Feral cat ecology and control

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