A feral cat (Felis catus)
Common name: Cat, or feral cat
Scientific name: Felis catus
Family: Felidae (cats)
With the cunning of a tiger and a distinctive green eye-shine that pierces the black of night, the feral cat is a predatory, carnivorous animal. Unlike the humble backyard moggy, it doesn't rely on human contact.
Feral cats are pet cats that have gone wild. They are found all over Australia and are one of the most damaging feral animals in this country.
Even pet cats threaten our native wildlife!
What does it look like?
While similar in appearance to the backyard moggy, the feral cat is more muscular around the head. The average male weighs 3-6 kg. Females are smaller.
Australian feral cats are mainly short-haired. Coat colours vary, allowing the cat to blend into its natural surroundings. Ginger cats are more likely to be found in semi-arid and desert areas, while grey and black cats are found in scrub and forests.
Where does it live?
During the day, the feral cat rests in hollow logs, clumps of grass or debris. But by night, it prowls bushland and backyards, preying on native Australian animals.
The feral cat does seem to have nine lives. Its ability to get food and shelter from the natural environment means it's found everywhere across Australia - from semi-arid desert and the urban backyard to scrub and bushland.
What does it eat?
Feral cats are one of the greatest threats to Australian wildlife.
The average feral cat needs 300 grams of flesh daily to survive. A study of the stomach contents of cats shows they eat almost anything that moves including geckoes, skinks, crickets, locusts, birds, small native mammals, spiders and even plants.
Cats have been found to eat more than 186 species of native birds, 64 species of mammals, 87 species of reptiles and 10 species of frogs.
How does it breed?
Feral cats are prolific breeders. A female can have three litters a year, with an average of five kittens a litter.
Impact on native wildlife
Queensland's feral cat population stands at about 1.5 million, which is greater than the domestic cat population. But even apparently harmless domestic cats kill and injure wildlife in surprising numbers.
The feral cat is one of the main predators of Australian wildlife. While its impact is difficult to measure, feral cats are clearly reducing the populations of many native animals. They might even threaten the survival of some rare and endangered species.
Domestic cats also threaten wildlife. It's estimated that cats kill 3.8 million native Australian animals each year.
Feral cats are particularly damaging to isolated animal populations. A single feral cat was the main predator of an isolated colony of allied rock-wallabies in north Queensland.
From 1990 to 1992, the feral cat population in the Diamantina region of south-west Queensland grew rapidly after good rains. Scientists were concerned because this is the site of Queensland's major surviving colony of the endangered greater bilby. In two weeks more than 500 feral cats were shot on Davenport Downs.
Apart from preying directly on wildlife, feral cats compete with native animals for scarce food resources.
How can it be controlled?
Cat owners can take a few simple steps to prevent their cats from killing our wildlife or becoming feral.
Australia's feral cat population is exploding. While no control method is satisfactory, the best method for controlling feral cats is to use traps. Other more expensive and time-consuming methods include:
- exclusion fencing;
- shooting; and
- developing viral-immunocontraception.
But biological control is probably one of the best options.
How can you help?
Feral cat eradication programs won't work if the feral cat population is restocked with stray and dumped domestic cats.
Domestic cats can become wild if abandoned or allowed to stray. Even domestic cats hunt and kill animals instinctively.
Cat control should begin in the home. Cat owners should observe the following tips.
- Register your cat. For more details of laws for pet owners in Queensland, visit the Queensland Government website.
- Label your cat with a collar, tag, microchip or tattoo.
- Desex your cat to avoid unwanted litters.
- Keep your cat indoors at night - ideally in an enclosure - to prevent it from preying on native animals.
- Provide adequate food and shelter for your cat. Provide your cat with enclosed areas for exercise.
- Attach bells to your cat's collar so that it can't stalk animals.
- Support moves to introduce cat controls, such as identification, registration, and curfews.
Don't feed stray or feral cats! Remember, stray cats can become feral.