Feral cat management on Indigenous lands

This was a collaborative project between scientists, Indigenous rangers and Traditional Owners from the Djelk and Warddeken Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory which aimed to gain a better understanding of the role of feral cats in mammal declines across north Australia and trialled methods for their control.  The project also sought to gain a better understanding of the distribution and ecology of cats, particularly in the stone country of Arnhem Land.

Cats have been implicated in the decline of a suite of small mammal species across northern Australia.  Research on cats in northern Australia is limited and little was known about cats in Arnhem Land.

The Traditional Owners and land-managers of Warddeken and Djelk IPAs have been concerned about mammal declines and the role of predation by feral cats. Many native animals are culturally important as totemic species and for utilitarian purposes.  Community elders consider it important that younger generations know and see these species.  Consequently they wanted to understand the role of cats in mammal declines, and explore the feasibility of underrating cat control on their lands.

The project:

  • trialled and developed methods for surveying and monitoring feral cat distribution and occurrence that could be undertaken by Indigenous rangers, including motion-sensing cameras, sand pad, and tracking techniques with the use of cyber tracker;
  • improved the understanding of cat ecology through satellite/radio-tracking, diet analyses and documenting indigenous ecological knowledge of cats;
  • trialled techniques to manage cats, including hunting, trapping and the use of cat-detection dogs; and
  • a key requirement was that methodologies could be applied by Indigenous people, and that flexibility in approach within an action-learning context was required.  Significant community engagement and education were undertaken in order to foster awareness about cats in local communities and their significant in management of country.

Methods for studying feral cats in a cross-cultural setting generated a greater understanding of the ecology of cats in northern Australia.  Valuable information on cat distribution and behaviour was acquired in a remote region of north Australia.  However, attempts to suppress feral cat populations in this region were unsuccessful.

The highly collaborative nature of this project resulted in substantial gains in Indigenous awareness and engagement with biodiversity and the threats posed by cats. The acquired knowledge is informing plans of management for these IPAs.  This project demonstrated the importance of working collaboratively in research with Indigenous landowners and rangers on Aboriginal lands, and the value of their contribution to project development and implementation.

The project refined and adapted sampling methods for cats that proved suitable for implementation in the region.  Furthermore these methods were highly amenable to Indigenous rangers who could implement them, under minimal supervision from ecologists. The use of Cyber Tracker sequences greatly augmented these outcomes helping to ensure consistent data quality. The camera-trap methods are now being used across the Top End by ecologists to gain greater insight into feral cat occurrence and relationships with mammal diversity. Track transects potentially provide a cost-effective means for Indigenous land managers to collect baseline data on cat occurrence, from which to monitor future changes.

Warddeken Rangers have produced and instructional video to assist with training Indigenous Rangers and others in setting up camera trap arrays.   A technical guide on the use of motion detection cameras was produced by the team and has been presented to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous land managers at a number of workshops across Northern Australia.

The project was undertaken within the Arnhem Land plateau of the Warddeken and Djelk Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), adjacent to Kakadu National Park. The focal study area was centred around the homelands of the Manmoyi and Kamarrkawawarn in the Warddeken IPA.  The adjacent Djelk IPA was also involved in some project aspects.

A guide for the use of remote cameras for wildlife survey in northern Australia

The project was led by Dr Graeme Gillespie, with researchers from Charles Darwin University and the Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management working in collaboration with Rangers and Traditional land owners from the Warddeken and Djelk Indigenous Protected Areas. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy was in involved in use and trial of cat detecting dogs.

Project Leader:
Dr Graeme Gillespie
Department of Land Resource Management
Northern Territory Government
[email protected]
08 8995 5025