There are no current techniques that have proven successful to remove feral cats from the landscape and a solution could be decades away. Even if we are successful in developing the capacity to reduce the density of feral cats at a landscape scale, feral predator-free areas are likely to be required in the long term for the most vulnerable species - that is, species that can't persist in the presence of even very low cat and fox numbers.
In addition to enabling the reintroduction of locally extinct animals, and the restoration of declining species, feral-free fenced areas contribute to broader conservation objectives by:
- supporting the development of options for reintroduction and restoration of species beyond the fence
- providing a base for research into improving conventional feral animal control techniques and exploring long-term options for synthetic biology (genetic) solutions for feral cats.
The project will be delivered in collaboration with the Environmental Trust-funded feral cat research project, which seeks to improve our feral cat control options.
Establishing a feral predator-free area
Creating feral predator-free areas involves:
- building a conservation fence – 1.8 metres high wire mesh fence with floppy top, mesh size/gauge designed to exclude fox, feral cats and rabbits, 2 mid height electric wires, skirt to lay flat on ground to prevent burrowing, access gates to be placed strategically for management and emergencies
- eradicating all cats, foxes and wild dogs from within the area
- eradicating populations of feral herbivores, including deer, goats, pigs, and rabbits – if rabbits cannot be eradicated, they are reduced to a level where they have negligible impact
- reintroduction of locally extinct animal species
- monitoring, evaluation and reporting on species response, threats and ecosystem health.
Control of feral animals will be conducted in line with the feral animal control plans and will use a range of conventional techniques, including trapping, shooting and baiting, following relevant codes of practice (including animal welfare requirements) and EPA and Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority permits.
Managing fenced areas
While the fence is a potential barrier for the movement of some wildlife, evidence from other feral predator-free areas has shown that the fence is not a barrier to most biodiversity that either flies over, moves through or around fenced areas. In each case, the potential impacts on biodiversity will be fully examined in a review of environmental factors.
Evidence has shown that overpopulation is not a risk for most species. Where it is a risk, this will be addressed by population control (e.g. native predators), relocation to other fenced areas to support species conservation at a national scale or release beyond the fence in areas where feral predators can be sufficiently controlled.
Genetic diversity will be achieved by sourcing a diversity of founders based on expert advice, the size of the founding population, and the ongoing exchange of animals between populations if genetic monitoring indicates this is required.
The potential cultural and environmental impacts of clearing for the fence line are assessed in the review of environmental factors and mitigations put in place to minimise the impact. Residual effects, such as the loss of individual trees, need to be weighed against the ecosystem benefits that flow from removing feral animals and restoring native wildlife.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service will work closely with Aboriginal communities to ensure projects provide ongoing access for Aboriginal Traditional Owners.