Predicting bait uptake by feral cats, Felis catus, in semi-arid environments.
Feral cat control using aerial broadcasting of toxic baits continues to be used in the rangelands of Western Australia. The effectiveness of these operations has sometimes been compromised by different environmental factors that affect prey and cat numbers. This study demonstrates that the ratio of cats to their preferred prey (small mammals) can be used to predict the most effective time to bait. The regular baiting of three conservation sites offered an opportunity to study the relationship between feral cat abundance, the abundance of their prey and ingestion of toxic baits. Peron Peninsula on the mid-west coast, Lorna Glen station in the northern Goldfields and the central Gibson Desert of Western Australia are sites where cat control using toxic baits has been routinely applied over the last 15 years. We postulated that bait ingestion by cats was linked to the availability of live prey. Small mammal abundance (capture rates in pit-fall traps) and relative cat abundance (based on daily track counts) were assessed at these sites and the data used to produce a predator-prey ratio index (PPRI). We used generalised linear mixed models to test the effect of prey abundance, prebaiting cat abundance and PPRI on baiting efficacy (BE). The best model for predicting efficacy of baiting contained only PPRI. This simple model was able to predict baiting success over the entire range of outcomes, from highly successful (>75% cat reduction) to unsuccessful (0% cat reduction). The ability to predict feral cat BE in advance of planned toxic baiting operations will provide a valuable tool for wildlife managers involved in cat control.