Feral Cats (Felis catus)

Stop the spread!Status: Cats 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 (Commonwealth of Australia)


Identifying features

Ferral cat in the bush

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.


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.

View recorded distribution information in Natural Values Atlas
View recorded distribution information in PestSmart


Environmental Impacts

Feral cats are believed to have a negative impact on native wildlife and livestock through predation, competition, and disease transmission. 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.


Reproduction

Feral cat close up

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.


Control measures

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.

Read more about controlling feral cats


Did you know?

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


Further information

For advice on feral cat management in Tasmania, contact the Invasive Species Branch on 03 6777 2200, or visit DPIPWE's Cat Management in Tasmania website.

The PestSmart 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.


The following fact sheets are available for download:

Cat Ownership in Tasmania - Fact Sheet (281 KB)

Feral Cats in Tasmania - Fact Sheet (281 KB)



See other invasive mammals:

Foxes | European rabbits | Feral pigs | Feral goats | Ferrets | Wild dogs
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See other invasive species:

Birds | Freshwater species | Other species

Contact

Invasive Species Enquiries
Invasive Species Branch
165 Westbury Road
PROSPECT TAS 7250
Phone: 03 6777 2200
Fax: 03 6336 5453
Email: invasivespecies@dpipwe.tas.gov.au

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