Feral Cats Vs. Tasmanian Devils

Written by Bridget Conway
It looks like Tasmanian Devils have yet another threat they must face in order to survive – feral cats. Recent research has prompted the idea that feral cats may be another cause of the decline of the beloved Devils, due to the sheer size, number and veracity of them. “Surveys being conducted [by postgraduate researcher Bronwyn Fancourt of the University of Tasmania] are showing a sharp decline of eastern quolls, and at the same time, a rise in feral cat sightings.” Although the link between these two animals is still yet to be discovered, Ms. Fancourt believes that by “transmitting disease, competing and preying on native animals [and] replacing the Tasmanian devil in the food chain,” feral cats may be a real problem for our native fauna.
Fancourt’s research is just the beginning. The Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary and Tourism Operation Tarkine Trails will be conducting research on the relation of feral cats and Tassie Devils. The Tarkine, in the state’s Northwest, “is one of the few places in the wild where the devil population is free of the deadly facial tumour disease.” Greg Irons, director of this new 10-year project, says, “No research of this kind has been undertaken in the Tarkine before.” There have been “44 cameras set up along a 100km stretch of the Tarkine … to give a reliable reading of devil population.” They have been “gobsmacked by the sheer number of feral cats all through the area” and all of them are “huge too.” The research will aim to shed light on the population numbers and behaviours of the Tarkine devils and provide insight into whether or not feral cats are a problem for the devils or not.
Tasmanian devils have already had such a bad run. “In the mid 1990s, the first signs were observed of the fatal and infectious cancer, Devial Facial Tumour Disease. Sightings of the Tasmanian devil have since declined by more than 80%.” The disease, which has been shown to be a contagious type of cancer, affects the devils by “the appearance of obvious facial cancers” and those who start showing signs of the disease usually die within a few months because of the inability to eat and swallow. “In May 2009, the Australian Government listed the Tasmanian devil as Endangered under national environmental law” due to the spread of this disease, they are “wholly protected.” Now that feral cats may be in the mix, the future does not look hopeful.
However, the other side of the coin is the issue of how to deal with feral cats. If they are a threat to the devils and to other animals, then how should we deal with them? Well, in July 2012, “new cat management laws came into effect in Tasmania … [which allows] cats found in a prohibited, rural or remote area [to be] trapped, seized or humanely destroyed.” This law seeks to get rid of feral cats because they “pose a risk to Tasmania’s wildlife, environment and agriculture.” Thus, there are no limits on to how many feral cats one can slaughter in the name of preserving Tasmania’s flora and fauna.
Although this law does not put rules on the amount of feral cats that can be killed, the Tasmanian Government is “keen to discuss what else can be done” and that “eradication is not a feasible option in Tasmania, and that targeting what we are trying to protect is more important.” At least we can have hope that everyone is looking at all the various solutions to this problem. Let’s hope the right one is found sooner rather than later.

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