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Direct evidence implicates feral cat predation as the primary cause of failure of a mammal reintroduction programme

Hardman, B., Moro, D. and Calver, M. (2016) Direct evidence implicates feral cat predation as the primary cause of failure of a mammal reintroduction programme. Ecological Management & Restoration, 17 (2). pp. 152-158.

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As evidence mounts that the feral Cat (Felis catus) is a significant threat to endemic Australian biodiversity and impedes reintroduction attempts, uncertainty remains about the impact a residual population of cats following control will have on a mammal reintroduction programme. Also, behavioural interactions between cats and their prey continue to be an area of interest. Within the framework of an ecosystem restoration project, we tested the hypotheses that successful reintroductions of some medium-sized mammals are possible in locations where feral cats are controlled (but not eradicated) in the absence of European Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), and that hare-wallabies that dispersed from their release area are more vulnerable to cat predation compared with those that remain at the release site. We used radiotelemetry to monitor the survivorship and dispersal of 16 Rufous Hare-wallabies (Lagorchestes hirsutus spp.) and 18 Banded Hare-wallabies (Lagostrophus fasciatus fasciatus) reintroduced to four sites within Shark Bay, Western Australia. Nearly all foxes were removed and feral cats were subject to ongoing control that kept their indices low relative to prerelease levels. All monitored hare-wallabies were killed by cats within eight and 10 months following release. Significant predation by feral cats was not immediate: most kills occurred in clusters, with periods of several months where no mortalities occurred. Once a hare-wallaby was killed, however, predation continued until each population was eliminated. Animals remaining near their release site survived longer than those that dispersed. The aetiology of predation events observed offers new insights into patterns of feral cat behaviour and mammal releases. We propose a hypothesis that these intense per capita predation events may reflect a targeted hunting behaviour in individual feral cats. Even where feral cats are controlled, the outcome from consistent predation events will result in reintroduction failures. Managers considering the reintroduction of medium-sized mammals in the presence of feral cats should, irrespective of concurrent cat control, consider the low probability of success. We advocate alternative approaches to cat-baiting alone for the recovery of cat-vulnerable mammals such as hare-wallabies.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Copyright: © 2016 Ecological Society of Australia.
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