Tasmanian sheep farmer Greg Squires became interested in trapping feral cats on his property when he began seeing them “out and about in broad daylight”.
“I figured if we were seeing them out during the day, then there were a lot of them around,” he said.
Mr Squires said he wanted to reduce the number of feral cats in his area, both to protect his stock from the diseases they carry, and protect native wildlife from predation.
He is one of eight cat trappers in the West Tamar Landcare Group, which is one of a number of environmental groups across Tasmania taking action to address the “feral cat problem” in their patch.
Landcare Tasmania boss Peter Stronach said many groups were becoming involved in feral cat management because they could “see the issue … plain as day” and were “sick of waiting around” for a government-led solution.
“They just want to get out there and [tackle] it,” he said.
Teaching community groups
Mr Stronach’s organization has been running cat management information sessions in various catchments across the state, including the Coal Valley, Tasman Peninsula, and Leven Valley.
“We’re driven by what our groups want to do, and members wanted to know more and wanted to do something about the [feral cat] problem,” he said.
These groups felt it was up to them to take action because of the lack of “a lead on effective cat management across the state”, Mr Stronach said.
The information sessions, Mr Stronach explained, involved using “specialist cat trapper” John Bowden to teach community members how to trap feral cats in a legal and ethical way.
“So everything from which traps to use … how to set them, where to set them, and how to check them,” he said.
“We are teaching the local groups to fish, basically, because we won’t be able to afford, in the long run, to have specialists running around [trapping cats].”
On his property near Kelso, Mr Squires said he had enjoyed learning from Mr Bowden how feral cats moved through the landscape at different times of the year, as well as the best “bait” to use.
“Believe it or not, it’s roast chicken, that works remarkably well,” he said.
Getting cat management priorities right
Mr Squire’s local Landcare group began its cat management project in 2019 due to community interest, according to group leader Peter Voller.
Mr Voller said members of the West Tamar Landcare Group, along with other local landholders, decided to take a “holistic approach” to manage feral cats in their area, which involved developing a project with three primary arms.
The first, he said, focused on building community awareness of the feral cat problem and encouraging responsible pet ownership.
This involved holding meetings, distributing flyers and newsletters, and posting information on social media.
The second arm focused on encouraging cat owners to desex and microchip their cats, partly by offering people financial incentives to do so.
And the third arm involved, “with community consent and understanding”, the trapping of feral cats across the target area.
Mr Voller said his group had found it worth while briefing the community early on.
“Probably the most important thing … was getting the council comfortable [with] what we were doing, and also making sure we had community licence,” he said.
‘Real world’ results of action
Results of the West Tamar Landcare group’s cat-trapping efforts were revealed by monitoring what the group had done, Mr Voller said.
“We’ve trapped a 6,500-hectare area for three years now [and] we’ve seen a decreasing number of cats each year,” he said.
His group has also seen a change in the gender and age of the cats being trapped, with younger female cats being the most commonly caught more recently, compared to the “really big old tomcats” they trapped early on.
The group has also received anecdotal reports from local sheep farmers like Mr Squires of more ewes giving birth to healthy lambs, an indicator that toxoplasmosis, a cat-borne disease that can cause abortion and stillbirths in sheep, may be declining.
Additionally and “encouragingly”, the group has seen a rise in the number of native animals accidentally trapped.
These animals, which were all immediately released, included devils, quolls and “other species that you’d expect to recover when cat pressures are removed”, Mr Voller said.
“So from an environmental perspective, we’re seeing really positive recovery,” he said.
Cat management momentum building
One hundred kilometers west, the Sulfur Creek/Preservation Bay Coastcare Group has also been trapping cats in its patch, as have groups at Bronte Park, Collinsvale and Meander, to name just a few.
“It’s becoming more mainstream now that people understand that feral cats are a beast, and they’re different to strays and domestic cats,” Mr Stronach said.
“The momentum is there now.”
Mr Voller said that for groups getting started in cat management, “talking to people, getting an idea of what’s being done by others, can be really valuable”.
“We’ve always been really open about what we do and how we do it [and] I think it’s a situation where lots of groups sort of evolve their own approach,” he said.
Mr Voller explained the most important thing his group had done in feral cat management was demonstrating “the benefits you can get from cat eradication or cat reduction”.
And while they were at it, they had learned the “powerful effect” that community groups like theirs can have.