9.30 am: Australian Government perspective on feral cats

Sally Box

Content to be provided

9.40 am: State perspective - update on Feral Cat Pest Declaration under the BAM Act

Andrew Reeves

The Biosecurity and Agricultural Management (BAM) Act and regulations allow for organisms to be declared as pest in all, or part, of the State and categorised into different control categories if they have, or may have, and adverse effect on native organisms, the well-being of people, the natural environment and/or the productivity of the States agriculture, forest, fishing or pearling industries. As such the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development have undertaken a technical assessment for declaration of the feral cat as a declared pest under section 22(2) of the BAM Act, and have consulted stakeholders both internally and externally. This talk will therefore provide an overview of this process and where it’s up to currently, the distinction between feral cats, stray cats and domestic cats, the likely declaration categories and what this means for cat owners and those undertaking feral cat control across WA.

9.50 am: The impacts of feral cats on Australian wildlife

John Woinarski

Many important components of Australia’s distinctive biodiversity are in decline or have become extinct. At least 32 mammal species have become extinct since European colonisation of Australia – representing about 40% of the world’s modern mammal extinctions. Although many factors have contributed to these declines and extinctions, feral cats are implicated in most of the mammal extinctions, and continue to pose a major threat to many Australian animals. The recognition of this impact is long-standing, but contested. Many recent studies and management programs (particularly successful reintroductions of threatened mammals to predator-proof exclosures) have provided crucial evidence that allows the role of cats to be more clearly defined. In a series of recent studies, we concluded that the Australian feral cat population fluctuates between 1.4 to 5.6 million; that areas without cats comprise <0.5% of Australia; that cats kill more than 1 million birds, more than 1 million reptiles, and more than 1 million mammals in Australia every day.

10.05 am: Community perceptions and social momentum

Gaye Mackenzie

What influences the way we think about feral cats and other feral animals and the management actions we take to control them?  Gaye will explore this issue through a social science lens.

11.25 am: Gene editing - introduction & social licence

Margaret Byrne

In Australia, feral predators, particularly feral cats and foxes, are major threats to biodiversity and have been linked to extinctions of native animals. Current management options are largely based on baiting, yet these efforts are self-limiting as they require ongoing implementation with variable effectiveness in terms of population control. More recently, the gene editing system CRISPR-Cas9 has been proposed as a potential tool for the control of invasive species. This technology has the potential to be a species-specific and non-lethal alternative to current baiting based control options. Considered evaluation of gene editing for invasive species control will involve scientific and community discussion and establishment of regulatory control mechanisms. This will require assessment of risks and benefits and hence a range of information related to biology, ecology and population dynamics of target species in Australian landscapes. We reviewed the current state of biological knowledge of several of Australia’s invasive species within the gene-drive context, including feral cats. This provides the opportunity to address knowledge gaps prior to formal evaluation of gene editing as an effective and sustainable strategy for the control of specific invasive species. 

11.40 am: The CRISPR toolkit for genetic biocontrol of invasive species

Owain Edwards

Australia has long been a global leader for the implementation of successful biological control agents targeting insects, weeds, and vertebrate pests.  This has primarily involved classical biological control approaches using predators, parasitoids, and disease agents.  Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with symbiotic bacteria have been released for many years into far north Queensland, first as a strategy to make mosquitoes incapable of transmitting Dengue and more recently as a population suppression tool.  Australian scientists also developed “daughterless” carp technology, but this tool was never deployed for genetic control of this damaging pest in our native river systems.  CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology has made it possible to consider developing genetic control strategies for species that would never have been considered candidates previously, including feral cats.  Australian scientists, with international partners, are using CRISPR-Cas9 to design components of a genetic toolkit that can be utilised in different ways to control target pests.  Future releases of genetic control agents should be subject at the very least to the same strict regulations that have been in place for decades for exotic biological control agents.  Extensive testing under quarantine conditions will be needed to protect against unforeseen ecological consequences.  Community consultation must begin now to determine for what target species, and under what circumstances the public might consider genetic technologies as a control option.

11.55 am: Detection dogs and their role in feral cat management

Scott Thompson

Conservation detection dogs have been used to search for a variety of materials for more than 100yrs. Trained conservation detection dogs have an established record of being a cost effective method for locating animals, their scats and retreat sites as well as for detecting drugs, missing persons, explosives, blood, cadavers and medical conditions such as cancers.
The target odours include fauna, plants, disease, explosives, drugs, money, underground water, and many other substances that humans thought weren’t possible to search for. 
We will provide recent data to demonstrate the capability and efficiency of our detection dog, Dazzy, to find a cryptic scats, and discuss Dazzy’s ability to find the odours compared with human searches. Dazzy is professionally trained to find cats, foxes, Northern Quoll and Bilby. We will go on to explain how detection dogs can be used to manage feral cats in peri-urban and rural areas.

12.10 pm: Implementing humane and responsible feral cat control

Di Evans

The commitment and passion, as well as legislative requirements, to protect threatened species has produced a sense of urgency that has driven us to perhaps give less consideration to the impact of feral cat management on other species including non-target animals. For pest animal control programs to meet ethical and welfare considerations, they must be justified, humane and effective. To maintain social licence to continue these programs, all these aspects must be incorporated – the eight principles of humane vertebrate pest management, developed at an international meeting in 2004, provides a logical pathway to do this. Further, the humaneness matrix for feral cat control methods is a very useful practical tool which informs us about the relative animal welfare impacts (severity and duration of suffering prior to death and mode of death) of different control methods (shooting and trapping only). This matrix is based on the Five Domains model which provides a comprehensive review of key welfare considerations affecting physical aspects (nutrition, environmental change, health, behaviour) and mental states (fear, thirst, pain). In addition, operator competency can be underpinned by appropriate training and through mandatory compliance with codes of practice and standard operating procedures. Much progress has been made in terms of understanding the animal welfare impacts of current methods but much more needs to be done to ensure that the most humane methods are used effectively and more humane methods (including non-lethal) are developed.

1.55 pm: Charles Darwin Reserve Trials

Vanessa Westcott

Bush Heritage Australia is undertaking feral cat monitoring and control across the country. We use best-practice adaptive management at a landscape-scale to maintain wild, unfenced populations of vulnerable native fauna. We make it a priority to share our findings with others to improve conservation efforts beyond our reserves and partnerships.

I will provide an overview and some preliminary results of our Eradicat baiting trial at Charles Darwin Reserve as an example of our approach.

2.05 pm: Indigenous Rangers integrate old and new technologies to manage cats on their lands

Rachel Paltridge and Christine Ellis

Feral cats are a significant threat to the survival of the bilby and the great desert skink, two threatened species with key strongholds on Aboriginal lands. Indigenous Rangers are leading the fight against extinction of bilbies and great desert skinks by controlling cats and managing fire. Expert tracking skills, combined with the use of cat traps can be an efficient and cost-effective method of removing cats from priority sites. In the Gulf of Carpentaria Indigenous Rangers are restoring native mammal communities on West island with a cat eradication program involving baiting, trapping and high-tech Felixer Grooming Traps (that spray a lethal dose of poison onto cats but are not triggered by non-target species). Expert tracking skills are key to successful deployment of all these cat control methods and Indigenous Rangers are making significant contributions to wildlife conservation programs.

2.15 pm: Dryandra Numbat project - an example of successful feral cat control with community support

Peter Lacey

Dryandra Numbat project – an example of successful feral cat control with community support – Abstract

Dryandra Woodland is a refuge for fauna within the fragmented, transitional zone, between the jarrah forest to the west and more arid woodlands and mallee heath to the east. It is one of the few locations where iconic and threatened fauna such as the numbat and woylie have maintained a foothold while their populations and distribution declined elsewhere. 

To stem the decline of WA fauna the government implemented a baiting program based on a naturally occurring toxin sodium fluoroacetate commonly known as 1080, which native fauna in the south west of WA had developed varying levels of resistance. The baiting in Dryandra started in 1982 and was very effective at recovering key fauna species, this program developed and became Western Shield.

After the initial success of Western Shield, some fauna populations again collapsed in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, in 2014 woylie and numbat numbers were very low, research by Marlow et al and Friend showed that cats had become a major predator in Dryandra and were not effectively controlled by existing baiting practices.

With the aid of funding from the federal and state governments, DBCA’s Wheatbelt Region decided to implement a range of actions aimed at fauna recovery in Dryandra Woodland including encouraging off reserve control, acknowledging that control restricted largely to DBCA estate would limit its ineffectiveness in such a fragmented landscape.

2.25 pm: Public preferences for cat control in the Dryandra region of WA

Vandana Subroy

Economic research can guide conservation decision-making by analysing the costs and benefits of conservation plans to assess whether policies are economically optimal and socially desirable. My PhD research uses a well-established non-market valuation technique called a discrete choice experiment (DCE), to assess the attitudes and preferences of affected stakeholders for protecting threatened species (Numbats and Woylies) through fox and feral cat management. The study is conducted at Dryandra Woodland; a fragmented conservation site in WA surrounded by farmland. We surveyed conservation experts, direct landholders and surrounding community within 50 km of Dryandra Woodland, and the general public of WA.

Analysis revealed four main groups with distinct preferences. The largest group, which included 43% of the general public and about 60% of respondents from each of the other stakeholder samples, preferred a combination of strategies to manage fox and feral cat populations. There were three equal-sized groups—one opposed to the current strategy of 1080 baiting, one concerned only with the costs of strategies and who supported the current strategy, and a third that was indifferent to which management strategy was implemented. Most respondents, however, supported increased Numbat and Woylie populations. 

2.40 pm: With a little help from my friends: integrated management of vertebrate pests within fragmented landscapes; bringing community and government together

Rowan Hegglun

With a little help from my friends: integrated management of vertebrate pests within fragmented landscapes; bringing community and government together

Community based integrated asset protection in a fragmented landscape. Threatened species face a number of challenges to their survival. This presentation walks through a methodology designed to engage community in feral control to benefit threatened species with a view to future proofing continued feral management across the landscape. We will look at three broad approaches to engaging community in vertebrate pest management, each with varying degrees of social and environmental impact.

3.30 pm: Dirk Hartog Island

Dave Algar

Feral cats have been known to drive numerous extinctions of endemic species on islands. Also, predation by feral cats currently threatens many species listed as critically endangered. Island faunas that have evolved in the absence of predators are particularly susceptible to cat predation. Dirk Hartog Island—once a high biodiversity island—is no exception. In this presentation, I outline the strategy and techniques used in the current feral cat eradication campaign on this island. 

3.45 pm: Establishing a national network of feral cat-free areas (AWC)

Atticus Fleming

Australian Wildlife Conservancy is implementing a multi-layered approach to feral cat control:

  • implementing best practice in existing strategies including direct control (eg, trapping, shooting and indigenous tracking) and indirect control (management of ground cover and dingoes)
  • investing in new approaches, especially gene drive technology; and
  • establishing a national network of large feral cat-free areas (eg, up to 100,000 ha).

Recognising it is important for the sector to invest in a range of strategies, the establishment of large feral cat free areas is important because:

  • it is the only available strategy likely to deliver successful conservation for the most highly vulnerable mammals (eg, that currently survive only in cat-free areas);
  • it is the only strategy likely to enable the restoration of natural populations (ie, a diversity and abundance of animals in a landscape similar to 150+ years ago); and
  • it often delivers the greatest ecological return on investment.

We acknowledge the Noongar people as Traditional Custodians of this land and pay our respects to all Elders past and present