Investigating the role of feral cat predation

18 September 2015

Early results from Hub research to establish the role feral cats play in native mammal decline across northern Australia, have highlighted the need for further monitoring.

At the end of 2013 two sites with predator proof fencing and firebreaks were constructed in Kakadu National Park near Kapalga, to see whether native mammal numbers improve when predators are excluded.

Hub researchers used both traditional trapping techniques and motion detection cameras to monitor animals inside the two 64 hectare sites. Researcher Danielle Stokeld says the project team compared data from these sites with four unfenced control sites, two of which have fire breaks.

“Our surveys show that feral cats are quite widely distributed throughout the Kapalga area,” Ms Stokeld said.

“We also know that there are still a range of small mammals in the landscape and that they occur at low densities. We are continuing to capture at least six species across all the sites – we also had a really interesting discovery of a brushtail possum in November last year, which I believe hasn’t been seen in the area for more than a decade.”

“However, the project has only been running for less than two years and it’s simply too early to draw any conclusions about the impacts of cats on small mammal decline.”

Scat samples are also providing the researchers with greater insight into the diets of key predators in the area. Researcher Tim Gentles says almost 600 scat samples collected from July to November 2014 were analysed.

“We found that about 70 per cent of the scats from Dingos contained macropods – so animals such as agile wallabies and wallaroos,” said Mr Gentles.

“On the other hand, scats from cats contained about 70 per cent small and medium sized native mammals, the majority of which were bandicoots and sugar gliders.”

To further this work, the researchers want to determine the densities and home ranges of cats and dingos.

“The work is quite preliminary and it helps tell us what they’re eating, but to actually understand the impacts of these predators we need to understand the densities and ranges of cats and dogs, so we can actually assess what those impacts are going to be,” said Mr Gentles.

You can read more about the project here and view presentations which were given by the researchers at a forum for Parks Australia staff and Traditional Owners earlier this year, by researchers Danielle Stokeld, Tim Gentles and fence maintenance contractor Peter Christophersen.

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