A resource covering the impact of feral cats and how property owners and community members can participate in cat management practically, humanely and within the law.
Predation, together with cat-borne diseases like Toxoplasmosis and Sarcocystosis are the major causes of cat impacts to our natural and production landscapes. Threats to native wildlife have been reiterated in the recent State of the Environment Report, which notes that feral cats remain a major cause of the steady decline of mammal species Australia wide. Feral cats were also recognised as a key issue in the Threatened Species Strategy and 5 Year Action Plan.
As an island, Tasmania has some of the most significant feral cat impacts compared with mainland Australia and even the world. Due to the cool, wet climate in Tasmania, the diseases are able to remain viable in the environment for a lot longer, increasing their potential to infect. A 2014 CSIRO study estimated that Tasmania has one of the highest rates of toxoplasmosis in the world. The study found over 80% of feral cats in Tasmania carried the infection, with a 50-62% infection rate in humans (compared with only 23-35% on the mainland). A 2020 study by the Threatened Species Recovery hub estimated a $6 billion annual hit to the economy due to livestock impacts, deaths, hospitalisations and other human health concerns resulting from cat-borne diseases.
The Difference Between Stray and Feral Cats
There is an important distinction to be made between stray and feral cats. Stray cats are often former pets and have been socialised to people. They become strays through losing or leaving their homes. Feral cats, on the other hand, are not socialised to people. They were born in the wild (or, in some cases, lost contact with humans at a very young age) and it is almost impossible for them to acclimatise to living indoors.
Cats as Hunters
Cats are very efficient hunters of Tasmanian wildlife and cover 99% of Australia's total land area. Cats have been shown to prey on at least 400 species of native and introduced vertebrates in Australia. Since European settlement, feral cats have contributed to the extinction of approximately 27 Australian native animals.
Current estimates are that feral cats kill an average 1.8 billion Australian animals (reptiles, frogs, birds and mammals) every year, or two thousand native animals every minute. 75% of critically endangered or near threatened mammals, 40 birds, 21 reptiles, and 4 amphibians are currently threatened by feral cats in Australia.
Cats are the primary hosts of the diseases Toxoplasmosis and Sacrocystis and carry other cat-dependent diseases such as cat roundworm and cat scratch infections. It is estimated that cat-dependent diseases cost the economy $6 billion each year. In Australia, the agricultural cost is estimated to be between $7.67 to $18.3 million each year, with the sheep industry most heavily affected.
Both Toxoplasmosis and Sarcocystis are contagious to livestock. Toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage and mortality of new-born animals including livestock and native animals such as bandicoots, wombats, possums, wallabies and birds. Sarcocystis can be transmitted from cats to sheep, rendering their meat unsuitable for human consumption.
Toxoplasmosis also affects native wildlife and can have a range of human health impacts, particularly for pregnant women and immune compromised people. To avoid infection, avoid contact with cat faeces, and take care handling uncooked meat, and cook sheep and wild game products thoroughly.
How do the diseases spread?
Infected cats don’t often appear sick, and live life normally- then their roaming behaviour spreads millions of tiny, parasitic eggs into the environment. These eggs persist in soil, pasture and water for months, and can be ingested by livestock and wildllife.
Resources from TassieCat:
Also check out these easy-to-read fact sheets on the diagnoses, treatment and prevention of Toxoplasmosis and Sarcocystis in sheep. They show the life cycle of these parasites and how they travel to a host cat and to livestock and wildlife.
So you want to reduce the impacts of feral cats in your area - what next?
Cat action plan 101
If you are looking to tackle a feral cat issue in your area, it is crucial to have a plan to ensure that you are effectively managing the issue. There are several things to consider before attempting to tackle the issue of feral cats in your area - whose land will you be working on, and do you have permission? What licenses or authorisations do you need/have? If cage trapping, what are you going to do with any cats, or other animals caught? Is there a nearby cat management facility who will accept a trapped cat? Do you have the time and resources to carry out your plan effectively, safely and humanely? Here are some steps you can take to develop your cat action plan.
Currently the only method available for community members dealing with feral cats is cage trapping and, in some areas, shooting. There are restrictions under the Cat Management Act 2009 as to who can humanely destroy the trapped cats.
1. Develop your aim
As a property owner or community Landcare group it is important to identify why you want to tackle feral cat populations. When developing a plan, knowing your project aims will help you decide if effectively controlling cats is feasible for you and your group and ensure that you are able to achieve the outcomes you are after. For example:
- We want to protect a particular threatened species in a particular area
- We want to reduce the impacts of cat diseases to increase lamb yields on a farm / primary production facility.
When developing a plan, it is important to note that eradication is unlikely, so your management activities will need to be ongoing to ensure continued success. Also, you will achieve greater outcomes if you can manage to coordinate feral cat management across a broader area, so talk to your neighbours about combining resources.
2. How will you measure your success?
Do you have any baseline data? Will you be collecting data? How will you know when you have achieved your aim, or if you need to make changes to your plan?
Check out this resource from Pest Smart which outlines a Management Framework and guides you through some of the key questions to ask yourself when making a cat management plan, including assessing the problem and evaluating your plan.
Getting the right people on board early in the process may be critical to your plans success. It might be useful to involve neighbours, experts, pest control officers etc in the development of your plan rather than towards the end. Coordinate your plan with the right people. Have you notified neighbours, council or others about your plans? As well as the appropriate permissions, it is also best practice to let your local community know that you are trapping cats in the area, particularly in urban and peri urban areas. It is recommended that your project cover a large area to ensure buffer zones against new feral cats moving in - this means you may need to coordinate across a range of land tenures (private, council, crown, parks).
Talk to your council! Councils are able to designate areas as 'Cat Management Areas'. This means permissions around trapping and humanely destroying cats would change and a cat management plan can be coordinated. For more information on cat management areas, prohibited areas, and permissions on the destruction of cats, the legislation is outlined in the Cat Management Act Part 4 - Management of Cats
4. How are you going to do it?
Once you have your aim in mind, and a method for measuring the success of your plan, you will need to outline how you will achieve your goal. You will need to consider the resources available, types of methods you can and want to use, permissions you need/have, the practical aspects of trapping, your method and licensing to humanely euthanise a feral cat, or whether you are able to travel with a trapped cat (within 12 hours of it being caught) to a cat management facility who will accept it.
Please note: all feral cat management activities must be conducted in accordance with the Cat Management Act 2009 and the Animal Welfare Act 1993. Penalties apply for inhumane activities and other breaches of these Acts.
Currently the only methods available for managing feral cat numbers in Tasmania are cage trapping and shooting. Part 4 of the Cat Management Act 2009 outlines who may trap a cat and where, and who may humanely euthanise feral cats that are trapped. The recommendation for 'humane destruction' of a feral cat is with a shot to the head or the administration of barbiturates. If you do not have someone with the appropriate licensing to euthanise the cat - don't trap.
- Check out these guidelines for trapping a cat in urban and peri-urban areas - by TassieCat.
- As well as this Cat Trapping Information Booklet by Ten Lives Cat Centre.
- You can also view community Landcarers demonstrating how to use a cat trap here.
- We highly recommend viewing Pest Smart's resource on trapping feral cats using cage traps, which includes a wealth of considerations when trapping and destroying cats, including animal welfare, wildlife exclusions, health considerations, legislation and more.
There are other options to manage feral cat impacts that you might like to consider:
- Habitat restoration and rehabilitation. Providing good cover and food availability for wildlife will help increase their numbers and may reduce the impacts of predation of cats. Activities such as weeding, revegetation and fire management can be indirect methods of cat management.
- Manage other introduced species such as mice, rats and rabbits. Reducing these sources of prey for cats, can help reduce cat numbers. Caution needs to be taken here though, both in the methods you use to control these species and also that cats do not “prey switch” to local native species. In Tasmania, control of these species in conjunction with feral cat control is often best.
- Exclusion fencing can be a non-lethal, safe, effective, though expensive way to keep cats away from your property. But it is important to remember, you still need to remove all cats from inside the exclusion fence and provide ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the fence, and possible incursions.
- Responsible pet ownership. Domestic cats have huge impact on urban and peri urban environments. Getting people to stop their pets from roaming is both healthier for their pets, but also protects our urban wildlife. Encouraging farmers to get rid of their farm cats is also recommended, as these cats have a high chance of spreading diseases to their stock through hay and grain.
Before undertaking a cat management project, ask yourself:
Can you trap a cat legally?
Not all land tenures allow trapping of cats. To find out if your project area allows for trapping, get in touch with your local council, look at Part 4 of the Cat Management Act, or read Kingborough Council's information sheet on The Law and Trapping Cats in Tasmania.
What are you going to do once you've caught a cat?
Do you have a means of determining whether the cat is domestic or feral? This is important if you are in urban and peri urban areas.
Is there a nearby facility that will take the cat?
Do you have an appropriately licensed person who can humanely euthanise the feral cat, and is it legal to do so?
If the answer is no - don't trap!
Ethics and Animal Welfare
When tackling feral cat populations it is essential to follow legislation and treat cats and any other animals caught humanely. You might be wondering what the best course of action is if you see a feral cat. Unfortunately, taking the feral cat to an animal shelter is not always a viable option. Travelling, handing, and changes in environment can stress out the animal, especially if you are quite a distance from a facility. Also, feral cats can cause anxiety to the animals who are already residents in the shelter. Feral cats, especially adult ones, often wont be able to properly adapt to life as a pet after being in the wild.
- Currently the recommended course of action for humane disposal of feral cats is shooting. Shooting must be done by experienced, skilled, and responsible shooters where the animal can be clearly seen, and is in range with the correct firearm, ammunition, and shot placement used.
- Exclusion fencing can be a non-lethal, safe, effective, though expensive way to keep cats away from your property.
- Cage traps are legal in Tasmania. Box traps which do not hold any limbs in place are the most humane, though the animal can still injure itself trying to escape. Leg-hold traps and snares are prohibited. Once trapped, the cat can be taken to an authorised person (provided they have capacity and are aware beforehand) or management facility to be euthanised within 12 hours of being caught.
- It is often more distressing, and therefore less humane, for an animal to travel to a facility. Unfortunately in Tasmania, there are few cat management facilities and they are often at capacity and unable to take feral cats, so it is vital you check capacity of your nearest facility as they may not be able to take your trapped cats. If there is no such facility nearby your project area, and you do not have someone with the appropriate licensing to euthanise the cat- don't trap.
Image: Friends of Collinsvale wildlife camera footage
Monitoring can help gather information about the feral cat problem in your area, and can help you to assess changes as you implement a plan. Collecting camera footage may also help you present data and start a conversation with council about declaring a Cat Management Area.
There are many ways to collect and record data on feral cat sightings or feral cat impact (e.g. a dead animal that has been killed by a cat). One way to do this is to set up cat monitoring with Feral Cat Scan. Feral Cat Scan also allows you to enter your cat management actions, and includes an alert setup which notifies you if others have sighted cats or cat impact in your area.
Landcare Tasmania has a lending library for members which includes wildlife monitoring cameras which can help capture the feral cat problem in your area. Find out more about monitoring, data collection and citizen science here.
- The Cat Management Act 2009
- NRE Feral Cat Information Sheet
- Pest Smart Cat Management Framework
- Guidelines for trapping a cat in urban and peri-urban areas - by TassieCat
- Cat Trapping Information Booklet by Ten Lives Cat Centre.
- Trapping feral cats using cage traps -by Pest Smart
- The Law and Trapping Cats in Tasmania - Kingbourough Council
- Listen - ABCs Tasmanian Country Hour interview - Landcare Cat Management Project
- Citizen Science - Surveys, Monitoring and Mapping
Feel free to get in touch with Gill Basnett, the National Feral Cat and Fox Management Coordinator for the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.
Gillian Basnett | National Feral Cat and Fox Management Coordinator
| E. [email protected] |