For several years, in full public view on the Internet, the Australian authorities have been searching for ways to bring the feral cat on their continent under their control. They want to eradicate the feral cat and have put forward ambitious plans to kill millions but time and again it has dawned upon them (partly through reactions on the Internet to their plans) that it is impractical to eradicate the feral cat in Australia or even make a sufficient dent in its population size to make any significant differences to the predation of their native species. They desperately want to protect their native species particularly from an invasive species.
And so they scramble around seeking ever more imaginative ways to beat the feral cat knowing, as mentioned, that they cannot get rid of it.
There are some new proposals on the table, which have been published on the Internet. One of them, is highly ambitious. Many people will say it is too ambitious and impractical but perhaps at this stage it is simply theoretical. Researchers at the University of Adelaide are developing what has been described as a “toxic microchip”. The chip is implanted into the prey of the feral cat. The chip contains a toxin which is not poisonous to native species for some mysterious reason. They say that native species would have adapted to the toxin. When a feral cat attacks an animal that carries this microchip the chip is broken open. The toxin then attacks the predator, the feral cat, and kills it. Of course, it will also kill any other predator. This is too far-fetched and is another proposal that simply won’t work.
The authorities in Australia, having realised that it is impossible to eliminate the feral cat, are now looking at ways of eliminating that percentage of feral cats who are the primary culprits in attacking their native species. These culprits are the dominant male feral cats who are the major predators. It has been decided that a relatively small percentage of the feral cat population are responsible for the majority of the killings. These are serial killer feral cats and they should be eliminated.
How do you identify the serial killer feral cats? What has been suggested is that large box traps should be set to catch only the large feral cats or auditory signals be used to target these types of feral cat (I presume to draw them in and kill them).
A third initiative is to make the prey of the feral cat more “cat aware” and therefore able to defend themselves more efficiently. It is looking at the other side of the coin and trying to enhance the defensive characteristics of the cat’s prey. Researchers think that they can “fast track evolution” and breed up populations of native species which are “cat-savvy”. The intention being that they will be able to survive even in areas where there are cat predators.
I get the impression from these initiatives that the Australian authorities are somewhat desperate in their desire to beat the feral cat. I can understand that.
Perhaps after more head scratching they will come back to what is universally considered to be an effective way of controlling feral cat populations provided it is done extensively and with proper funding, namely, trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs. Those who work on these programs stand by them. City councils in America who have studied the effects of the programs have seen that they work. TNR is being used in Scotland in the conservation of the Scottish Wildcat.
People who don’t like cats say that TNR doesn’t work. The indications are that when properly funded TNR does indeed work and Australia should revert to this system and throw some money at it. This sort of initiative would not attract any criticism from any cat lover anywhere in the world. It would be welcomed and supported whereas to date all their initiatives have been derided by people who want to see the humane treatment of feral cats.