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Datasheet

Felis catus (cat)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 27 July 2017
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Natural Enemy
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Felis catus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • cat
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Mammalia
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • The domestic cat, F. catus, was probably domesticated c. 9000 years ago from the Near Eastern wildcat (F. silvestris lybica). Considering the extent to which cats are valued as pets, it is not surpri...
  • Principal Source
  • Global Invasive Species Database  

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Felis catus (cat); group of feral cats. Note variation in coat-colour.
TitleGroup of feral cats
CaptionFelis catus (cat); group of feral cats. Note variation in coat-colour.
CopyrightPublic Domain - released by Boris Dimitrov from Serbia/via wikipedia
Felis catus (cat); group of feral cats. Note variation in coat-colour.
Group of feral catsFelis catus (cat); group of feral cats. Note variation in coat-colour.Public Domain - released by Boris Dimitrov from Serbia/via wikipedia
Felis catus (cat); adult, sat on wire fence. USA.
TitleAdult
CaptionFelis catus (cat); adult, sat on wire fence. USA.
Copyright©Rebekah D. Wallace/University of Georgia/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Felis catus (cat); adult, sat on wire fence. USA.
AdultFelis catus (cat); adult, sat on wire fence. USA.©Rebekah D. Wallace/University of Georgia/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Felis catus (cat); an adult cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), a typical ectoparasite of cats, both domestic and feral.
TitleCat flea
CaptionFelis catus (cat); an adult cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), a typical ectoparasite of cats, both domestic and feral.
Copyright©Joseph Berger/Bugwood.org - CC BY 3.0 US
Felis catus (cat); an adult cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), a typical ectoparasite of cats, both domestic and feral.
Cat fleaFelis catus (cat); an adult cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), a typical ectoparasite of cats, both domestic and feral.©Joseph Berger/Bugwood.org - CC BY 3.0 US

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Felis catus Linnaeus, 1758

Preferred Common Name

  • cat

International Common Names

  • English: cat; domestic cat; feral cat; house cat
  • French: chat
  • Spanish: gato

Local Common Names

  • Fiji: pusiniveikau
  • Germany: Hauskatze; Katze
  • Italy: gatto
  • New Zealand: poti
  • Portugal: gato

Summary of Invasiveness

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The domestic cat, F. catus, was probably domesticated c. 9000 years ago from the Near Eastern wildcat (F. silvestris lybica). Considering the extent to which cats are valued as pets, it is not surprising that they have since been translocated by humans to almost all parts of the world. Domestic cats that live without close contact with humans are called feral cats. Notable predators, F. catus threatens native birdlife and other fauna, especially on islands where native species have evolved in relative isolation from mammalian predators. Cats can also transmit diseases and threaten native wildcats through hybridization. Different management options are adopted for feral domestic cats compared with domestic cats living as pets; for example, lethal control can be used in the case of feral cats.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Mammalia
  •                     Order: Carnivora
  •                         Suborder: Fissipeda
  •                             Family: Felidae
  •                                 Genus: Felis
  •                                     Species: Felis catus

Description

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F. catus are agile predators with retractable claws, sharp teeth, long whiskers and keen hearing and vision including acute night vision. Feral cats differ little in appearance from domestic (pet) cats and display a full range of coat patterns; coat patterns are very variable in pet cats. When in good condition, the feral cat has a more robust appearance than its domestic counterpart, being more muscular around the head and neck region. After many generations in a free-roaming state, feral cats tend to revert to the wild-type tabby colour pattern, with varying degrees of white on belly and chest. The average body weight of male feral cats is 3–6 kg; females weigh 2–4 kg. When living domestically, cats may be considerably heavier. (Queensland Government, 2012; Woodward and Quinn, 2011)

Distribution

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Feral cats are not to be confused with the three species of wild cats found throughout continental Europe, south-western Asia, and the savannah regions of Africa. These are the African wild cats (Felis silvestris lybica), European wild cats (F. silvestris silvestris) and Asiatic wild cats (F. silvestris ornata). African wild cats are found in appropriate habitat throughout Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. European wild cats are found throughout Europe and western Russia and Scandinavian countries. Asiatic wildcats are found in the Middle East, southern Russia, western China and western India. Domestic cats (F. catus) are thought to be descended from African wild cats and are found virtually worldwide in association with humans (IUCN Cat Specialist Group 1996a, IUCN Cat Specialist Group 1996b, IUCN Cat Specialist Group 1996c, in University of Michigan 2006).

The distribution table is concerned with records of feral cats and not domestic pets.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

British Indian Ocean TerritoryRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Chagos ArchipelagoPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)PresentIntroduced1888 Invasive ISSG, 2011
Cocos IslandsRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
IsraelPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Japan
-Bonin IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-Ryukyu ArchipelagoPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
TaiwanPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
United Arab EmiratesRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011

Africa

AldabraPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Crozet IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
DjiboutiPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
MauritiusRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
MayottePresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
RéunionPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Saint HelenaPresentIntroduced16th century Invasive ISSG, 2011
-AscensionEradicatedIntroduced1815 Invasive Ratcliffe et al., 2010Successful 2-yera campaign to eradicate feral cats
Sao Tome and PrincipePresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
SeychellesPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
South AfricaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Spain
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011

North America

BermudaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Canada
-Prince Edward IslandRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
MexicoRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Saint Pierre and MiquelonPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
USA
-CaliforniaRestricted distributionIntroducedc. 1900 Invasive ISSG, 2011
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-OregonPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011

Central America and Caribbean

AnguillaPresentIntroducedProbably 16th or 17th century Invasive ISSG, 2011
Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
BahamasPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
BarbadosPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
British Virgin IslandsRestricted distributionIntroduced1884 Invasive ISSG, 2011
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroduced16th or 17th century Invasive ISSG, 2011
CuraçaoPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
GuadeloupePresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
HaitiPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
JamaicaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
MontserratPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Saint LuciaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Caribbean Conservation Association, 1991; ISSG, 2012Severely impacting biodiversity
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011

South America

BrazilPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Ecuador
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Falkland IslandsPresentIntroduced1830 or earlier Invasive ISSG, 2011

Europe

FrancePresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
HungaryPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Spain
-Balearic IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
SwitzerlandPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
UKPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-ScotlandPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011

Oceania

American SamoaPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
AustraliaPresentIntroduced1824 - 1886 Invasive ISSG, 2011
-Lord Howe Is.EradicatedIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-New South WalesPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-QueenslandRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-South AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-TasmaniaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-VictoriaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
FijiPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
French Southern and Antarctic TerritoriesPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
KiribatiPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
New ZealandPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Norfolk IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
Phoenix IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Pitcairn IslandPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
TokelauPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
TongaPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011

Habitat

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Feral cats adapt to a variety of habitat types and circumstances. On the Australian continent they inhabit forests and woodland habitats in eastern, western and northern parts of the country (Dickman 1996). On Hahajima Island, Japan, feral cats have been observed widely in various kinds of habitats, including primary forests (Kawakami and Higuchi 2002). On Macquarie Island, (a sub-Antarctic Australian island) most cats live in herb-field or tussock grassland (Brothers Skira and Copson 1985), showing an ability to adapt to difficult terrain. A study of the habitat use and diet of feral cats in a Mediterranean habitat in a riparian reserve in central California (Hall et al. 2000, in Brickner 2003) can probably reflect on the situation in other areas with similar climatic areas. Cats in the reserve seemed to strongly prefer staying in riparian habitat. Hall and colleagues (2000) suggest that this habitat provides ample cover and perhaps a variety of prey, especially birds. Cats in the study foraged mostly in the adjacent fields and annual grasslands and, to a lesser extent, in the riparian habitat (in Brickner 2003).

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial-managed
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-natural/semi-natural
semi-natural/Cold lands / tundra Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
semi-natural/Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Species Vectored

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Biology and Ecology

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Nutrition

Male and female feral cat home ranges overlap (Say and Pontier 2004). The mean home range for feral cats in Hawaiian forests was 5.74 km2 for males and 2.23 km2 for females (Smucker et al. 2000) which is equivalent to 574 ha and 223 ha, respectively. Australian studies have given mean home ranges of 7 to 28 ha for domestic cats and up to 249.7 ha for feral cats; while a New Zealand study gave home ranges of between 75 ha and 985 ha. Prey availability is a primary factor in determining home range size for feral cats (Edwards et al. 2001; Barratt 1997). Cat activity is bimodal, with peaks near dawn and dusk (Konecny 1987).

The diet of feral cats on islands may vary significantly to that of feral cats on the mainland, with cats often taking advantage of alternative food sources. On the tiny 28 hectare Herekopare Island, New Zealand, for example, there are no introduced or native species of mammals. Prior to elimination of feral cats there in 1970, a seabird called the fairy prion (see Pachyptila turtur in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) comprised the bulk of the diet with other sea birds and occasional land birds making up most of the remainder (Fitzgerald and Veitch 1985, in Dickman 1996). The weta (a native insect in the order Orthoptera) also appeared to be important to individual cats; two cats' stomachs were found to contain over 100 insects each. Similarly, in the Galapagos Islands, birds are an important component of the feral cat's diet, with cats sometimes taking birds of similar mass to themselves, such as frigate birds (Fregata spp.), pelicans (Pelecanus spp.) and flightless cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.) (Konecny 1987, in Dickman 1996). On Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles, hatchlings of the green turtle (see Chelonia mydas in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) are seasonally predominant in the diet of feral cats (Seabrook, 1989). On Christmas Island, the introduced black rat (Rattus rattus) comprises almost one third of the diet of feral cats by weight, however, 21% of the diet is comprised of the large flying-fox (see Pteropus melanotus in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) and 28% of the imperial pigeon (see Ducula whartoni in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) (Tidemann et al. 1994, in Dickman 1996).
 
Click here to see Major prey of feral cats in Australia (source: Dickman 1996).
 
Reproduction
 
Domestic cats are intensive breeders, maybe due to the seasonal estrous cycle of the females, during which each female comes into heat several times until pregnancy or end of cycle (Gunther and Terkel 2002, in Brickner 2003). A female cat reaches reproductive maturity between 7 to 12 months of age can be in estrous as many as five times a year (Ogan and Jurek 1997, in Brickner 2003). The gestation period lasts 63 to 65 days (Nowak 1991, in Brickner 2003) and the average litter is four to six kittens (O’Donnell 2001, in Brickner 2003). Cats can reproduce any month of the year, where food and habitat is sufficient. An adult female may produce three litters per year (Fitzwater 1994, in Brickner 2003). Relatively high survival coupled with their high reproductive output allows individual cats to affect native wildlife for many years and cat populations to rebound quickly after control efforts (Danner et al., 2010).
 
Lifecycle stages
 
Gestation: 65 days. Weaning: 35-40 days. Sexual maturity: 9 months.

 

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Introduction pathways to new locations
Ship: Many ships of the 18th and 19th centuries were infested with rats and so carried cats to control them.
Transportation of domesticated animals: Taken by humans as pets then left behind or the young dispersed.

Local dispersal methods
Natural dispersal (local)
Escape/release from domestic situations:
Cats were once commonly used to control rodent pests in barns and fields and were often only loosely managed in this context, so escapes into the environment were possible. Pet cats may escape, but unwanted cats or their litters are also abandoned (Woodward and Quinn, 2011).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Biological control Yes
Intentional release Yes
Pet trade Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Native fauna Negative

Impact

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The most obvious impact of feral cats is the predatory impact they exert on native prey populations; this has resulted in the probable local or regional decline or extinction of many species (Dickman 1996). However, unambiguous evidence of cats causing a decline in a prey species is difficult to find as other factors, such as other predator species, may also be involved in the decline (Dickman 1996). One exception to this is a study by Saunders (1991) which showed that cats killed 7% of nestlings of red-tailed cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus magnificus) over 11 breeding seasons in Western Australia. Several reintroduction programmes in Australia have failed, due to the predation pressure exerted by feral cats, often in conjunction with foxes. For example, the success of the reintroductions of the golden bandicoot (Isoodon auratus) and the burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur) in the Gibson Desert, Western Australia was hindered primarily by feral cat predation. In general, the predatory impact of cats primarily affects birds and small to medium-sized mammals (Dickman 1996). Endangered species around the world are threatened by the presence of cats, including the black stilt (see Himantopus novaezelandiae in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) (New Zealand), the Okinawa woodpecker (see Sapheopipo noguchii in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) (Japan) and the Cayman Island ground iguana (see Cyclura lewisi in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species), to list just some of the many species affected.
 
Changes in island fauna after the introduction of cats can provide a compelling demonstration of their predatory impact - impacts of feral cats on islands may be especially severe. Cats are capable of surviving in inhospitable conditions on the most remote oceanic islands, and as generalists, they prey upon a wide variety of species, mainly introduced mammals, but also native mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates (Medina et al., 2011, 2009). Because islands house a disproportionate share of terrestrial biodiversity, the impacts of invasive cats on islands may have significant biodiversity impacts. In fact, feral cats on islands are thought to be responsible for at least 14% of global bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions and the principal threat to almost 8% of critically endangered birds, mammals, and reptiles (Medina et al., 2011). Cats have been introduced to 40 islands off the coast of Australia, seven off the coast of New Zealand and several dozen islands elsewhere in the Pacific (Dickman 1992a, Veitch 1985, King 1973 1984, in Dickman 1996). Feral cats have been implicated in the decline of at least six species of island endemic birds in New Zealand, including the Stephens Island wren, the sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus) and the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), as well as 70 local populations of insular birds (King 1984, in Dickman 1996). The elimination of cats often leads to an increase in the population size of prey species. For example, following removal of cats from Little Barrier Island, New Zealand, the stitchbird (Notiomystis cincta) increased from less than 500 individuals to 3000 individuals in just a few years (Griffin et al. 1988, in Dickman 1996). Seabirds, particularly petrels and shearwaters, are often vulnerable to cats due to their lack of defence against terrestrial predators and because their population dynamics are sensitive to high adult mortality (Bonnaud et al., 2012; Hughes et al., 2008).

Cats can also act as vectors of diseases which can spread to humans and livestock. For example, feline leukaemia and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) threatens other felines such as native bobcats and mountain lions as well as domestic house cats. Feral cats can also transmit rabies, roundworm, hookworm and the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii (Woodward and Quinn, 2011).

Feral cats threaten populations of native wildcats (Felis sylvestris) through hybridization (see Felis sylvestris in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). For example, the population of wildcats in Scotland shows a history of interbreeding with domestic cats and the two cats are difficult to distinguish (Beaumont et al., 2001).
 

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Bettongia lesueur (burrowing bettong)No detailsAustralia/Western AustraliaPredationISSG, 2011
Calyptorhynchus magnificus (red-tailed cockatoo)No detailsAustralia/Western AustraliaPredationISSG, 2011
Chelonia mydas (green sea turtle)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered speciesSeychellesPredationISSG, 2011
Cyclura lewisi (Cayman Island ground iguana)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)Cayman IslandsPredationISSG, 2011
Diomedea exulans (wandering albatross)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)AustraliaPredation
Ducula whartoni (Imperial pigeon)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)PredationISSG, 2011
Fregata aquila (Ascension frigatebird)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)Saint Helena/AscensionPredation
Himantopus novaezelandiae (black stilt)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered)New ZealandPredationISSG, 2011
Isoodon auratus (golden bandicoot)No detailsAustralia/Western AustraliaPredationISSG, 2011
Lagorchestes hirsutusNo DetailsAustralia/Australian Northern TerritoryPredation
Perameles gunnii (eastern barred bandicoot)NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)Australia/VictoriaPredation
Pteropus melanotus (large flying-fox)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)PredationISSG, 2011
Puffinus yelkouan (Yelkouan shearwater)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)FrancePredation
Sapheopipo noguchii (Okinawa woodpecker)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered)JapanPredationISSG, 2011
Sminthopsis aitkeni (Kangaroo Island dunnart)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered)Australia/South AustraliaPredation
Thalassarche chrysostoma (grey-headed albatross)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)AustraliaPredation

Risk and Impact Factors

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Impact mechanisms

  • Interaction with other invasive species
  • Predation

Impact outcomes

  • Threat to/ loss of native species

Uses

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F. catus is valued as a pet. It can also be used to control pests e.g. mice and rats.

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Biological control

General

  • Pet/aquarium trade

Prevention and Control

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Cats were brought to Britain around 300AD by the Romans; European colonists later introduced them around the globe (Coleman et al. 1997, in Brickner 2003). As cats are often revered as pets, this raises the moral dilemma of how to handle them when they have become a threat to native wildlife. Brickner (2003) suggests that animal rights organisations that condemn cat control via killing are over-looking the at least 52–63 million mammals, 25–29 million birds, and 4–6 million reptiles killed each summer in Britain by around 9 million cats (Woods et al., 2003). Obviously there are two quite different situations for management of the species, depending on the status of the cat in relation to humans. This ranges from truly feral animals, such as on islands, that are totally non-reliant on people for food and shelter, to semi-feral individuals that are fed to some degree by humans, through to pet cats living with and being fed by their owners.

In the case of pet cats, solutions that would not be feasible for feral cats can be implemented. For example, the fitting of anti-predation devices, the use of chemical and ultrasonic deterrents, curfews and the banning of ownership of cats within sensitive areas (Hansen, 2010). Similarly, Brickner (2003) suggests keeping a pet cat in at night, fitting it with a bell, neutering the animal when it is young and giving it toys. However, Barrette (1998) found that fitting cats with bells has no significant effect on the amount of prey caught, whereas Ruxton et al. (2002) found that equipping cats with bells reduced prey delivery rates by about 50% (in Brickner 2003). In a study in Britain, Woods et al. (2003) found that the number of birds and herpetofauna brought home by cats was significantly lower in households that feed birds (but the number of actual different types of bird species killed was greater in households that feed birds). The number of mammals brought home per cat was lower when cats were equipped with bells or kept indoors at night, however, the number of herpetofauna brought home was greater when cats were kept in at night. It may be that a choice must be made between focusing on mammal protection or protection of herpetofauna. In addition, if the mammals being caught are introduced species this raises another dilemma, since there may then be a conflict of interest between non-native pest control and native species conservation.

In the second situation, when a cat is feral and threatening wildlife, a more severe means of controlling cats may be justified. This can involve trapping, hunting, shooting, poisoning (e.g. using poisoned baits or secondary poisoning from poisoned rats), and introduction of viral disease (e.g. panleucopaenia). There are drawbacks to these control methods. For example, trapping/shooting/hunting are time and labour intensive and not economically viable over large areas. The introduction of disease is problematic because of transmission of disease to owned domestic cats and the low transmission rate amongst widely dispersed feral cats. Toxins used for cat baiting may have unacceptable environmental impacts on habitats (Denny and Dickman, 2010) or affect non-target species, and delivery of poisons may not be effective (Hetherington et al., 2007). Visual lures (such as feathers and cotton wool) and attractants (such as tuna oil) can be used  to attract greater numbers of feral cats to traps and baits. However, cats by nature are hunters rather than scavengers, so control methods relying upon food baits or lures are generally unsuccessful when prey numbers are high. Read (2010) proposed a new poison delivery system which may be more effective and cat-specific. It involves ejecting poison to the back/neck region of cat-sized animals after interception of an infra-red beam. Cats respond by oral grooming of their fur to remove the poison, whereas the poison is not consumed by less dextrous and less fastidious species such as dogs.

‘Trap-neuter-return’ (TNR) is a control strategy used as an alternative to lethal control of feral or semi-feral cats; it is often advocated by animal welfare groups. TNR involves trapping and sterilizing cats, which are then returned to the environment, but often continue to be fed and cared for by volunteer caretakers. As part of TNR schemes, cats may be immunized so the overall feral cat population will not only contain more sterile individuals but may also be less likely to spread disease.  Advocates often argue that eradication is unethical, or that the TNR population may help to resist immigrations of unneutered and disease carrying feral cats which might otherwise invade from surrounding areas. However, without eradication, TNR does not prevent negative environmental impacts; cats which continue to be fed remain a threat since even well-fed cats still kill native wildlife (Longcore et al., 2009).

Eradication of feral cats from islands can result in dramatic recoveries of threatened vertebrates. For example, the iguana (Cyclura carinata) in Long Cay, Caribbean and the rodent (Peromyscus pseudocrinitus) in Coronados Island, Gulf of California. Eradication is usually feasible on islands under 1000 ha, and eradication attempts from islands up to 10,000ha have been successful, but cats have been eradicated from only two islands >10 000 ha (Medina et al., 2011).

Eradication programmes must consider indirect effects of feral cat eradication, including effects on prey populations such as mice, rats, and rabbits. For example, following eradication of cats on the World Heritage Site of Macquarie Island, in 2001, numbers of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) increased substantially and have negatively impacted on native vegetation (Bergstrom et al., 2009).

To address concerns of hybridization with wildcats (Felis sylvestris), the focus is on identification and protection of genetically pure populations of wildcat. There are however difficulties in distinguishing between pure wildcats and hybrids. In Scotland, captive breeding programmes have increasingly been used to conserve Scottish wildcat populations (see Felis sylvestris in ARKive)

In Australia, predation by feral cats was listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Federal Endangered Species Protection Act 1992. A Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats was produced in 1999 and amended in 2008 to promote the recovery of vulnerable and endangered native species and threatened ecological communities (Environment Australia 1999 and DEWHA 2008). A recently published review (Denny and Dickman (2010) assesses the efficacy of the methods used to estimate relative abundance of cats, describes currently used cat control methodologies, and discusses possible future directions for the control of cats in Australia. It also includes details of the current legislative framework that exists for cat control in Australia, describes the ecology of feral and stray cats exploiting various habitats. Please follow this link to view Denny E. A & C. R. Dickman 2010. Review of cat ecology and management strategies in Australia. See also: ‘Feral cat ecology and control’ published by the Queensland Government.

Bibliography

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 R, 2012. Frigatebird returns to nest on Ascension for first time since Darwin. The Observer, Saturday 8 December 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/dec/08/frigatebird-returns-to-ascension.

Medina FM, Bonnaud E, Vidal E, Tershy BR, Zavaleta ES, Donlan CJ, Keitt BS, Le Corre M, Horwath SV, Nogales M, 2011. A global review of the impacts of invasive cats on island endangered vertebrates. Global Change Biology, 17: 3503–3510.

Queensland Government, 2012. Factsheet: Feral cat ecology and control. State of Queensland, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. http://www.daff.qld.gov.au/documents/Biosecurity_EnvironmentalPests/IPA-Feral-Cat-Ecology-PA26.pdf


References from GISD

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    Compiled by: IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)Updates with support from the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) project XOT603, a joint project with the Cayman Islands Government - Department of Environment
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