Cats (Felis catus
) are prohibited in a number of areas in Tasmania including National Parks, Conservation Areas, Public Reserves, State Forest and private property with a conservation covenant under the
Nature Conservation Act 2002
. Cats found in these areas may be trapped, seized or humanely destroyed by relevant Authorised Officers. Risk Assessment: Threat Abatement Plan for predation by feral cats (Commonwealth of Australia)
Feral cat on the prowl
Image: Daryl Panther
Feral cats are lean, 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.
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.
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.
View recorded distribution information in Natural Values Atlas
View recorded distribution information in PestSmart Connect Toolkit
Feral cats are believed to 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.
However, 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 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.
Feral cat ready to pounce
Image: Daryl Panther
Female cats can reproduce at 10-12 months of age, with males reaching maturity at about one year. Longer breeding periods have been noted in drier, warmer areas compared to cooler wetter places.
Cats produce up to three litters a year (65 days gestation) averaging four kittens per litter. Kittens are weak hunters and can take up to six months to become independent.
Female feral cats are likely to reproduce for all of their adult lives. This high reproductive ability keeps populations growing, despite the high death rates of young. Feral cat populations are self-sustaining and do not need recruitment from the domestic population to maintain their numbers.
The eradication of feral cats from the main island of Tasmania is currently unfeasible due to expense, lack of effective large-scale techniques, lack of specific legislation and continual recruitment from domestic cat community. Eradication may be possible in small areas and barrier fencing, combined with eradication inside the fences, has proven effective in protecting wildlife and reintroductions of endangered species.
Conventional control techniques of trapping and hunting 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 rural land where livestock are grazed. On other private land that is more than 1 km from a place of residence, a person can trap, seize or humanely destroy a cat. Cats found on any private land, including rural and remote areas, 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.
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.
Responsible Cat Ownership in Tasmania
Research papers - disease impacts of feral cats
See other invasive mammals:Foxes
| European rabbits
| Feral pigs
| Feral goats
| Wild dogs
See other invasive species:Birds
| Freshwater species
| Other species