Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: October 17, 2021

In the small town of Batchelor, adjacent to the Northern Territory’s Litchfield National Park, a council program has helped reduce the number of feral cats, which experts say pose the biggest threat to Australia’s native animals.

Over a two-day period in June this year, 26 feral cats in the Batchelor area were caught in traps and humanely euthanised as part of the Coomalie Community Government Council’s Veterinary and Education Program.

The program, which spanned several months, also involved surveying community members to capture animal populations and individual animal data, desexing pet cats and visiting schools to teach responsible pet ownership.

Chelsea Smart, a veterinarian who was part of the program, said working to rid the area of feral cats was essential to protecting “all the native species that reside within the area”, especially near Litchfield National Park.

“I’m worried [because] I have seen the cat numbers increase across many different parts of the Territory over the past two years,” she said.

The NT government warns on its website that feral cats, which have adapted to NT habitats over more than 100 years, pose a serious threat to native animals and have played a role in the extinction of some, particularly in Central Australia.

In February this year, an Australian government inquiry reported feral cats kill more than three billion native animals each year, and recommended their widespread culling.

In Batchelor — a town of about 500 people 98 kilometres south of Darwin — feral cats are one of the biggest issues for the local community.

Resident Trevor Sullivan blames feral cats for a decline in native wildlife over the years.

But he said the recent program had started to turn that around.

“I run the Batchelor Swimming Pool and that’s where the majority of the cats that we’ve caught were removed from,” he said.

“You’ve got to start somewhere, and these [measures] are working in that direction.

“If it fixes 10 cats in town, then it’s a success, a big success.”

The program was a collaboration between the Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities organisation and the Coomalie Community Government Council.

Council works and service manager Emma Dunne said in the time it had run, the program had made inroads into addressing Batchelor’s serious feral cat problem.

“We had really positive feedback from the community,” she said.

“People who had raised issues of the feral cats with us had given feedback that they had seen an impact, and they were really happy and pleased to see that council [was] taking initiative to do something.”

She said while the program had reduced the feral cat population, it needed to continue.

“Given that it was some time ago now, it’s evident that the cat population is on the rise again,” she said.

“I think we’ve only scratched the surface of managing the (feral) cat population.

The program was a one-off project that was funded by the Australian Government through a Communities Environment Program grant.

Ms Dunne said if the work was to continue, the council would need more external funding.

“With council’s budget ability we’ve got no current program to run anything (on feral cats), but it would be good to have more funding opportunities through grants to run something like that again,” Ms Dunne said.

Since European settlers arrived with cats more than 200 years ago, feral cats have been blamed for playing a major role in 34 Australian mammals becoming extinct, experts say.

There are more than six million feral cats across Australia, including many on offshore islands, according to researchers. 

Experts say feral cats kill around 75 million native animals every night across Australia, including birds, frogs, small mammals, and reptiles.

The NT government website says the only successful methods to control feral cats in the NT have been trapping or baiting.

But it says bait can only be used when there is a lack of food because cats will not scavenge unless forced to.

The website says feral cats can spread disease to native animals and humans.

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