Feral cat app to protect Australian wildlife

A nationwide crusade to tackle the menace posed by feral cats has moved into overdrive with the formation of a taskforce under the stewardship of Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews. And the taskforce will be able to utilise a new weapon in its expanding campaign with the unveiling of a feral cat mapping and reporting app called FeralCatScan.

The app has been developed by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre with funding backing from the Australian Government Department of the Environment. It is all part of what Mr Andrews hopes will be an escalation of the battle against feral cats, which was initially proposed by Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt at the opening Threatened Species Summit held at Melbourne Zoo in July last year and which SSAA National attended. The summit also launched the Threatened Species Strategy, which outlines the first instalment of a five-year plan to protect the survival of many of Australia’s native species.

Mr Andrews chaired the inaugural feral cat taskforce meeting in early December, which brought together government officials from states and territories and national resource management (NRM), as well as non-government representative groups.

In sweeping developments across the board, the ACT Government reported on its partnership project with the Australian Government at Mulligans Flat that will see the feral cat-free area grow from 485 hectares to 1555 hectares, with new suburbs being declared cat-containment zones. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service delivered an update on detector dogs protecting mountain pygmy possums through an Australian Government grant while there was the discovery of more konoom (smoky mouse) populations plus three new feral-free areas to safeguard threatened species. Further commitments include a $5 million campaign against wild dogs and feral cats in Queensland and the Northern Territory Government implementing measures to save rock rats and rock wallabies from feral cats in the West MacDonnell Ranges.

The introduction of the FeralCatScan app is a real boon. The purpose of the app is to provide the community and land managers with a tool for real-time reporting of feral cats, any management activities undertaken, photos of impacts and, most importantly, using that collective information to identify practical solutions.

Peter West, project officer for development of the app, outlined the value of the new piece of equipment. “Anyone can use the app or website to record feral cat activity and it is really easy to use,” he said. “If you have seen a feral cat lately, then I encourage you to record it in FeralCatScan.”

The app can also be used in vicinities where mobile reception may be unreliable by storing feral cat records until mobile coverage is available.

One region where the app has already made an impression is in South Australia. Andrew Triggs, acting manager of Planning and Adaptive Management with the SA Government on Kangaroo Island, has been experimenting with the app as a feral cat management, planning and reporting tool. “On Kangaroo Island it has been found that feral cats eat a total of 50 different bird, mammal, reptile and frog species. They also spread diseases to livestock and wildlife,” said Mr Triggs. “The impact on a small island like this can be substantial and we’re looking at a raft of practical and policy measures to manage the impacts.”

Mr Triggs was certain the innovation would be beneficial in helping to curb the feral cat problems. “This app will help us in a practical way to strategically identify feral cat hotspots on the island and more efficiently and effectively plan management activities to protect wildlife and agriculture,” he said.

SSAA National President Geoff Jones endorsed the organisation’s formal backing for the Threatened Species campaign, which he feels is a very worthwhile addition in the struggle against feral cats. “Sometimes, it’s not just a case of shooting the cats, but it’s more that the hunters actually saw them,” he said. “From these sightings, those involved can actually draw up some kind of map about where the cats are.”

Mr Jones also spoke about the role SSAA members played in hunting the cats, donating numerous hours of their time helping out with this task. “Feral cats are very wary creatures, so it’s good to have experienced hunters involved,” he said.

And Mr Jones urged SSAA members to “most definitely” get behind the new technology. “Feral cats have perhaps partially been kept under control in the urban suburbs, but certainly in the bush they are a very a serious problem,” he said. “They are a real threat, especially to small mammals and birds, and this app will help to make sure we are able to do something about it.”

For further information on the FeralCatScan app, including how to get involved and download the app free of charge for Apple and Android devices, visit the FeralCatScan website.

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