Researchers in Tasmania are striving to find a way to save the state’s small native animals from a growing feral cat population.
The introduced feline has already contributed to the loss of some species on mainland Australia, including a class of the eastern bettong, but it’s not too late for the island state, says Matt Appleby, an ecologist with Bush Heritage.
“Feral cats and foxes have been in high numbers on the mainland for some years and the chance of reversing their impact has passed,” Dr Appleby told AAP on Wednesday.
“But in Tasmania there is still hope that we can prevent it reaching that level.”
Along with a team of PhD students from the University of Tasmania, Dr Appleby and colleagues from Greening Australia are monitoring native animals across the state’s midlands to try to gauge the threats to their environment.
“For a lot of Tasmanian native species … the population trajectory is not good and in some cases we think they are on the way out,” he said.
“Cat numbers have risen quite dramatically and that will only have a negative effect.
“It could only be a matter of a number of years and these (species) could be on our threatened species (list).”
Feral cats feast on a range of animals up to 5kg, which means bettongs, bandicoots and quolls are among their targets.
With Tasmanian devil numbers declining due to a contagious facial tumour, the cat population has blossomed.
“Devils have played a really critical role in suppressing the cat numbers in the past and it will be a long time before we get their population in the wild back up to good numbers,” Dr Appleby said.
The three-year study will assess the impact of agriculture on native species, with Dr Appleby suggesting that areas of open and fragmented vegetation can make it easier for feral cats to prey on animals.