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Feral cats

Feral cat with native bird in it's mouth

Feral cats prey on wildlife © Biodiversity Qld

A feral cat is any cat that does not have an owner. Feral cats can be classified as feral or semi-feral depending on their origin.

True feral cats are those which have been born in an environment without human intervention. Semi-feral cats are cats which have at some time in their lives been cared for by humans, for example, a cat that has been ‘dumped’ and forced to live wild.

Despite being domesticated for more than 4000 years, the common house cat, a descendant of an African wild cat, retains its strong hunting instinct. If abandoned, many domestic cats may quickly adapt to their surroundings, becoming feral in behaviour and appearance.

The feral cat (Felis catus) is a declared category 3,4,6 pest animal under the Biosecurity Act 2014. It is an offence under the Act to feed or release this pest without a permit.

A Category 3,4,6 pest animal is one that is established in Queensland and has, or could have, a substantial adverse economic, environmental or social impact. The management of these pests requires coordination and they are subject to programs led by local government, community and landowners.

What they look like

  • Feral cats are similar to domestic cats, but generally display a much stockier, stronger appearance.
  • Normally, males weigh an average of three to six kilograms, and females range from two to four kilograms.
  • They normally appear very well-kept and are found with short and long-haired coats in a variety of colours from grey, ginger, black, tabby or tortoise-shell.
  • Completely white feral cats are rare.
  • Established populations can evolve to best suit their environmental conditions and camouflage while hunting.
  • They hunt just after sunset and before sunrise.
  • Even well-fed feral and semi-feral cats will hunt and kill wildlife.

Where they live

  • They are found all over Australia and thrive in a variety of climatic and environmental extremes, from arid terrain to forests.
  • Semi-feral cats live around dump sites, alleys or abandoned buildings and rely on humans by scavenging rubbish scraps or feeding on food intentionally left out.
  • Feral cats shelter in hollow logs, clumps of grass, rabbit burrows, piles of debris and even hollows in standing trees.
  • They keep established home ranges, which vary in size depending on the availability of food and den sites.
  • They interact in groups of several adult females, their young of both sexes and one dominant adult male.

Problems caused by feral cats

Environmental damage

  • Feral cats prey on a wide range of native Australian wildlife species, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish.
  • During breeding season, a female feral cat raising kittens may eat up to 20 per cent of her body weight in prey every day.
  • Direct competition for food and other resources may also contribute to declining numbers of native predatory species such as birds of prey, quolls and various reptiles.

Social harm

  • In urban areas, feral and semi-feral cats may prey on small domestic pets and poultry.
  • Feral cats can become very territorial and if approached or cornered by people can scratch or bite them which can lead to infection and other health issues.

Economic impact

  • They may cause devastation in some agricultural areas, as they impact on poultry and other small livestock.
  • Control of feral cats can be very expensive and time consuming.

Prevention and control

Under the provisions of the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002, it is the landholder's responsibility to manage feral cats on their own land.

There are a number of steps that can help reduce your property's attractiveness and accessibility to feral cats:

Exclusion fencing

An electric fence with a minimal distance between wires will give a high degree of control for small areas.

It is recommended that electrified wire be mounted close to the top of the fence. However, this will also restrict the movement of native wildlife, so it is only recommended for the protection of domestic animals.

Non-electrified fencing should include netted roofing or a curved overhang to prevent the cat from climbing up and over the fence.

Traps

Suppliers of traps, including those for hire, can be found in the Yellow Pages. Soft catch rubber-jawed foot-hold traps may be used to capture feral cats. These types of traps are not recommended for use in urban and peri-urban environments due to the risk of catching other animals.

Trapping techniques must conform to accepted animal welfare practices and the traps used must be approved by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

Soft catch rubber-jawed foot-hold traps are designed to firmly hold the captured cat while eliminating trap-induced or self-induced injury.

Cage traps

The main types of trap used for the capture of feral cats is a wire cage trap which usually has a trigger and a door that closes behind the cat. These traps are usually very successful, easy to use and will not harm the animal once caught. Cage traps are recommended for use in most areas.

Property modification

Removing dense thickets of weeds and piles of rubbish may greatly reduce the available habitat for feral cats on your property. Feral cats are often found harbouring under shipping containers. It is recommended that netting or other exclusions be implemented in this situation to reduce the areas where they can live, breed and hide.

Feeding

Do not create feeding stations for local native wildlife as feral cats may use them to ambush other animals. Do not intentionally feed feral or semi-feral cats.

Dispose of food scraps, uneaten pet food and excess fruit dropped by fruit trees. Always cover your compost heap, or if possible use a compost bin.

Visual surveys

Often one of the most obvious signs of feral cat activity in an area is the presence of cat scats. Feral cats, unlike domestic cats, leave their excrement clearly visible to warn other cats of their territorial boundaries.

Monitor your property. If you find feral cats, or identify scats and dens, tell your neighbours. A cooperative community approach is necessary to achieve all pest management goals.

Help us manage the number of feral pests in our city by reporting any sightings using our online Report a problem form.

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