Feral Cats

Stop the spread!Feral cats live and reproduce in the wild. They are destinct in their behaviour, the way they approach people and live independently of people. Feral cats have either lost their ability to socialise with people or have never been exposed to people.

​Cats (Felis catus) are prohibited in a number of areas in Tasmania including National Parks, Conservation Areas, State Forest, private property with a conservation covenant under the Nature Conservation Act 2002 and areas declared prohibited under the Cat Management Act 2009. Cats found in these areas ​may be trapped, seized or humanely destroyed by responsible people identified in the Cat Management Act 2009 to undertake these cat management actions.

Risk Assessment: Threat Abatement Plan for predation by feral cats (Commonwealth of Australia)

​Identifyin​g features​​​​

feral cat

feral cat on the prowl. Photo: Daryl Panther​​

Feral cats look exactly like a domestic cat.They can be leaner, more muscular and slightly larger than average domestic cats, with some males up to 6 kg. While there is no characteristic coat colour for feral cats, the tabby form is the most common.​

Behavioural attrib​​utes​​

​Feral cats are fearful of people and respond more like a wild animal than a domestic one to human advances and tend to avoid people. Feral cats:

  • ​do not meow or approach people - domestic cats reserve meowing for interacting with people, because they have learnt people respond to vocal cues

  • will run if appraoched by people and will not show any signs of relaxing with continued presence of a person - it will rather hide and if it feels threatened it will lash out

  • tend to have more nocturnal behaviour - you would not expect to see a feral cat wandering about during the day.

History​​

Cats probably first arrived in Australia as pets of European settlers during the 18th century. By the 1850s, feral cat populations had been reported in the wild in Australia. It is known that intentional releases of cats were made in the late 1800s, particularly around farms and homesteads, in the hope that they would control rabbits, rats and mice.

Distribution​

Feral cats have been recorded in most habitats in Australia, including many offshore islands. Data on feral cat numbers is difficult to collect and total population estimates for Australia vary from five million up to 18 million.

​​Environmental Impacts

Feral cats have a negative impact on native wildlife and livestock through predation, competition, and disease transmission. Cats have been shown to prey on at least 400 species of native and introduced vertebrates in Australia, including 157 reptiles, 123 birds, 58 marsupials, 27 rodents and 21 frogs. Camera studies in Tasmania have shown cats are capable of catching and killing wildlife weighing up to four kilograms.

The environmental impacts of feral cats have been poorly studied, although there is clear evidence that they can have significant impact on isolated wildlife populations, such as on small islands.

Feral cats are adept hunters and may pose a threat to the survival of some native species including small mammals, birds and reptiles. They have been implicated in the extinction of some Australian native animals and have been a contributing factor in the failure of some endangered species reintroduction programs (such as the numbat and bilby in Western Australia). On the mainland, they are identified as a possible threat to 35 species of birds, 36 mammals, seven reptiles and three amphibians.

Feral cats pose a health risk to humans, livestock and native animals as carriers of diseases such as toxoplasmosis and sarcosporidiosis. Cat-related toxoplasmosis can cause debilitation, miscarriage and congenital birth defects in humans and other animals. Feral cats also represent a high-risk reservoir for exotic diseases such as rabies if an outbreak were to occur in Australia.

Reproduction​​

Feral cat close up

Feral cat ready to pounce
Image: Daryl Panther

Cats can start reproducing as yound as 4 months of age and can reproduce for all of their adult life. Females produce up to three litters a year (65 day gestation) averaging 4 kittens per litter. Their high reproduction ability keeps populations growing.

Feral cat populations are self-sustaining and do not need recruitment from the domestic population to maintain their numbers.

Longer breeding seasons have been noted in drier, warmer areas compared to cooler wetter places.

Control measures​​

The eradication of feral cats from the main island of Tasmania is currently unfeasible due to lack of effective broad-scale techniques and continual recruitment from domestic cat communities. Eradication is possible in small areas with purpose built barrier fencing, and on islands. Removing the impacts of cats has proven effective in protecting wildlife and reintroductions of endangered species.

Conventional control techniques of baiting, trapping and shooting have been successful in eradicating feral cats from some offshore islands around Australia. In 1985 the first cat eradication program commenced on Macquarie Island with the last recorded cat destroyed in June 2000 and the eradication effort declared completed in 2002.

In Tasmania, the Cat Management Act 2009 allows primary producers, and people working on their behalf, to trap, seize or humanely destroy any cat found on production land and production premises. On other private land that is more than 1 km from a place of residence, the property owner can trap, seize or humanely destroy a cat. Cats found on any private land may be returned to their owners or taken to a Cat Management Facility so that the owner can be contacted.

Any effective, long-term suppression of feral cat numbers and impacts will likely require a change in public attitudes to cat ownership.

Did you know?​

Feral cats are carnivores and can survive with limited access to water, as they use moisture from their prey.

More information​​

For advice on feral cat management in Tasmania, contact the Invasive Species Branch on 03 6165 3777, or visit our Responsible Cat Ownership in Tasmania website.

The PestSmart Connect Toolkit provides information and guidance on best-practice invasive animal management on several key vertebrate pest species including rabbits, foxes, feral pigs and feral cats.​

Research papers - disease impacts of feral cats​​

See other i​​nvasive mammals:

Foxes | European rabbits | Feral pigs | Feral goats | Ferrets | Wild dogs

See oth​er invasive species:

Birds | Freshwater species | Other species

Contact

Biosecurity Tasmania

Fax: 03 6173 0225