Across millions of hectares of Australia’s forests and woodlands once teeming with native fauna, wildlife is disappearing. The number of species listed as vulnerable or critically endangered increases every year. Huge swathes of land have been cleared for agriculture and introduced herbivores such as rabbits have dramatically changed the landscape, making it less hospitable to native wildlife. Cats kill a staggering 1.7 billion native animals per year, with foxes predating around 300 million.
The proliferation of introduced predators like foxes and cats is one critical threat that South West Catchments Council (SWCC) is hoping to address with a potentially game-changing new technology – the Felixer™ grooming trap.
Foxes and feral cats are highly efficient predators that can drive populations of native animals to extinction. Ten vulnerable species in the Upper Warren region of southwest Western Australia, including numbats, woylies and western ringtail possums, have managed to stave off this threat, thanks in large part to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction’s (DBCA) Western Shield predator management program. However, seven of these ten species have still suffered major population decline, with predation by feral cats implicated as a significant contributing factor.
SWCC is working with DBCA and Blackwood Basin Group to test whether newly developed Felixer™ grooming traps have the potential to reduce feral cat numbers and help to protect remaining populations of these vulnerable native species.
Felixer™ grooming traps use innovative sensors, tested by Perth Zoo, to distinguish cats and foxes from non-target wildlife. When they sense that a target predator species is close by, the Felixer™ units spray them with a gel containing the 1080 toxin. SWCC’s Sustainability and Environment Lead, Linda Metz said:
“Feral cats are fastidious groomers and will lick the gel off their fur, consuming a lethal dose of poison in the process. Previous efforts to control feral cats have relied on baiting, which can be ineffective due to the preference of cats to take live prey. It is hoped that this new technology will prove to be a more efficient, targeted feral cat control measure.”
The first trial, which deployed 8 Felixer™ traps over 14,000 ha of forest for 8 weeks, reduced feral cat activity by up to 24%. This reduction in activity was maintained for 5 months after the traps were removed, suggesting that their use may have long term benefits to native species survival. SWCC is continuing to improve the efficacy of the traps by deploying the units in areas where feral predators have been spotted by camera traps.
The outcomes of this research will determine whether Felixer™ grooming traps could be added to the existing suite of predator management techniques. If successful, they could be a vital tool in the fight to conserve our vulnerable native fauna.
This project is delivered by South West Catchments Council, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.