Description and general inormation
The eral cat diers 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 maleeral 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 camouage and cause apredominance o these colours in subsequent ospring.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 ater sunset and in the early hoursbeore sunrise. At night the cat displays a distinctive greeneyeshine under spotlight, making it easily distinguishablerom 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 beore 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 dierent typeso terrain.
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 requentlyshited 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 lie.
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
, 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