In Australia if you kill foxes feral cat numbers increase in places where these ‘pests’ are sympatric

The Conversation website boldly states that “baiting foxes can make feral cats even more brazen”. That statement is based on a study of 1.5 million camera traps photographs taken in forests of Australia. They studied the photographs by hand.

‘Sympatric’ – where wild animals live in the same area or their distribution overlaps.

Is the information accurate?

They say they’ve got to kill foxes and feral cats in Australia to protect native species of which 2.6 billion mammals, birds and reptiles are killed by these ‘pests’; the declared enemies of the state.

It’s is a brazen statement by The Conversation because they are saying that foxes and cats are going to make extinct some of Australia’s native species but where is the hard evidence for it? They also state that 2.6 billion of these animals are killed by these two predators annually but where is the hard evidence for that as well? I mean sound evidence on a national scale.

Human failures

The evidence will be small-scale studies which they extrapolate. The Conversation’s author, makes no reference whatsoever to the cruelty of poisoning many thousands of foxes and cats. It is automatically taken that it is a good thing to kill these two species of predator as fast as possible and it doesn’t matter how it’s done. Mass, legalised cruelty for me. Both the fox and cat were introduced by immigrants. Carelessness resulted in this mess which the authorities are struggling to clear up by mass killings. Human failure comes to mind.

In Australia where the fox and feral cat are sympatric if you poison foxes to death with bait the feral cats tend to do better and kill more prey animals
In Australia where the fox and feral cat are sympatric if you poison foxes to death with bait the feral cats tend to do better and kill more prey animals. Image: MikeB under license.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Kill foxes and cats flourish

Okay, let’s move onto the next stage of this discussion. This survey indicates another failure. In essence, ascertaining the nub of the matter from their lengthy article, the authors say that when you poison to death foxes in a given area, a competitor to the fox living in the same place, the feral cat, is likely to flourish.

In these areas, the feral cat is sympatric with the fox. If you kill one the other can more easily survive and prey on native species.

And so they’ve come to the conclusion that “cats need to be managed alongside foxes to protect native wildlife”.

This means cats need to be killed in parallel with foxes. But how? That’s been a challenge to them.

In Australia the fox is the most widely controlled predator which is that it is the most widely killed predator by the authorities.

Foxes are scavengers and cats aren’t

The problem is this: foxes are scavengers and they eat poisoned bait whereas feral cats are not true scavengers and therefore they don’t take the bait and are not killed by it.

Increase and decrease in prey species numbers

In one study they found that some species increased in numbers following the eradication or control of foxes such as brushtail possums, Western quolls. However, they say that seven other species “crashed” in numbers such as southern brown bandicoots, western ringtail possums.

Balancing act

Perhaps the outcome is obvious. Perhaps it should be obvious to the researchers. They found that “sustained, intensive baiting for foxes worked” while “feral cat density was generally higher in areas with fox control”. The density of one predator goes down while the density of the other predator goes up.

They found that there were 3.7 times as many cats in fox-baited areas. Feral cats became “more adventurous” when foxes were removed.

Obvious outcome

They said that the increased feral cat numbers was an ‘unintended consequence’ of poisoning foxes. I am surprised because a good conservationists could have foreseen this outcome.

Integrated ‘pest’ management

They concluded that “feral cats are notoriously difficult to control easily”. They are hard to kill. They suggest “indirect management” such as improving the “understory vegetation” (vegetation covering the ground) in order to provide hiding places for native animals preyed upon by cats. And to kill rabbits which feed feral cats. This will be about integrated pest management in their words.

Bias

Yes, I am biased. I guess you can tell 😉. I love foxes and feed them in the urban environment in the UK. The complete opposite to what is happening in sunny Australia.

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