NSW Feral Cat project update with Dr Guy Ballard

It's 15 months since this $30 million project began - find out what's happening.

Project lead Dr Guy Ballard

With feral cats killing 1.4 billion native animals each year University of New England, NSW Department of Primary Industries and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service are working together across 9 sites in north-east, south-east and western NSW to find solutions.

Developing strategies for effective feral cat management began with an Environmental Trust Major projects grant of $14,683,125 to the University of New England.

See project summary for more.

Q&A snapshot with project lead Dr Guy Ballard

Environmental Trust: What's has happened so far?

Dr Guy Ballard: So far, our hard-working staff from University of New England, NSW Department of Primary Industries and National Parks and Wildlife Service have been focused on establishing large-scale monitoring arrays at our research sites to gather vital baseline data. Now they are set up, we are monitoring feral cats, other predators and their prey at nine large scale sites across New South Wales.

The Trust: How many traps have been set across the 9 sites?

Dr Ballard: In the 2019-20 financial year we've set more than 1000 camera traps, dug nearly 500 pitfall traps at our western sites and undertaken thousands of live trap nights to monitor native species like quolls, possums and bandicoots.

The Trust: What have been the challenges?

Dr Ballard: Since the project started we have dealt with drought, fires and COVID-19. I'm pleased to say our staff have successfully risen to the challenges.

NSW Feral cat project Amy with legless lizard

The Trust: What has been interesting or uplifting?

Dr Ballard: It's been amazing to see the diversity of life recovering after bushfires in the east of our state. Baby quolls are always a highlight and a reminder there's hope for recovery after fires.

Our western teams have recently recorded some uncommon species, including the endangered Mallee worm-lizard, or Aprasia aurita. One of the benefits of a program that's doing such detailed monitoring is the opportunity to share, with managers and the public, insights into the endemic species that live at our sites – the same species we're trying to protect from feral cats.

The Trust: What is your hope for the end-result?

Dr Ballard: Our team is focused on determining if there is an effective way to manage feral cats across our landscapes, whether or not different eco-regions require different strategies and how to deliver successful control programs on the ground. This information will be crucial for conservation managers to realise the potential of other major initiatives, such as predator-proof fenced areas. We need to manage feral cats in the broader landscape to enhance and maintain wild fauna populations and ecosystem function until future technological advances provide alternative management options.

The Trust: Is there much interest from outside people for this project?

Dr Ballard: It's been quite amazing. We regularly field calls and emails from private and public land managers hoping that we have an answer to their feral cat management problems. In New South Wales, feral cats are a priority pest in every Local Land Services region and predation by feral cats is listed as a Key Threatening Process. Obviously we need to carefully follow the scientific process required to evaluate potential management strategies, but our results can't come soon enough.

The Trust: Do most people realise what an issue feral cats are for native animals?

Dr Ballard: It's quite mixed. Many people accept that feral cats are a significant problem but others simply can't believe feral cats are 'a big deal'. Part of the issue is that we don't have robust local case studies to provide people with relatable insights into feral cat management in New South Wales. We'll do our best to change that over the next 4 years.

Northern team and camera post