Feral Cats - Impact to Action - What you can do

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. 

The Impact    Creating A Plan    Monitoring     More Resources

 



The Impact

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.     

As an island, Tasmania has some of the most significant feral cat impacts compared with mainland Australia and even the world.  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. 

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. 

Cat Diseases 

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.  

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 work? 

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:

Toxoplasmosis and wildlife brochure - TassieCatCat-borne disease and agriculture brochure - 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. 

Toxoplasmosis Fact Sheet

Sarcocystis Fact Sheet



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.  There are several things to consider before attempting to tackle the issue of feral cats in your area - whose land is it on? What licenses or authorisations do you have? 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 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 trapping and humanely destroying the cat. 

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, it will be most useful to have a project aim and reason in mind.  For example:

  • We want to protect a threatened species in a particular area
  • We want to reduce the impacts of cat diseases on a farm / primary production facility 

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?

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.   

3. Talk

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 recommneded that your project cover a large area to ensure buffer zones against new 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 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 permissions you have, the practical aspects of trapping, your method and licensing to humanely euthanise a 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 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 methods available to the community for trapping and euthanising are cage trapping and shooting.  The recommendation for 'humane destruction' of a feral cat is with a shot to the head.  It is often more distressing for an animal to travel to a facility.  Unfortunately in Tasmania, many cat management facilities are at capacity and are unable to take feral cats, so it is important you make arrangements with a facility to check if they have capacity.  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.  

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. 

View 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? 

Is there a nearby facility that will take the cat? 

Do you have an appropriately licensed person who can euthanise the cat?

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 humanely.  You might be wondering what the best course of action is if you see a feral cat. Unfortunately, giving the feral cat to an animal shelter is not always a viable option. This can stress out the animal, along with the animals already residents at the shelter- and the cat won’t 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.
  • Cat 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.  


Monitoring

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 footage may also help you present data and start a conversation with council about declaring a Cat Management Area. 

There are many ways now 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. 

Resources List