The reputation of feral cats and the damage they do in Australia is commonly centred around what they directly kill.
Like the extinctions they cause by catching, wounding, and eating native species.
But there is another side to the impacts of feral cats which broadens their destruction to the native species they don't directly kill.
This impact sadly has zero status in the federal threatened species protection legislation that drives extinction prevention investment in Australia.
In the recently updated resources page for feral cats on the Australian Government Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, it states: "The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) provides for the identification and listing of key threatening processes. A key threatening process threatens or may threaten the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community. Predation by feral cats is listed as a key threatening process."
"Predation" is the only listed threatening process of feral cats under the act.
It means that the other impact of feral cats - spreading a disease that impacts the future health of native biodiversity, people, pets, and livestock - is not listed and has no threat abatement plan.
Without a listing in the EPBC act and a threat abatement plan - the impact of this cat-specific disease is not given the federal priority I believe it needs.
The disease is toxoplasmosis or "toxo". It is caused by a cat-specific parasite that cats carry and can spread to any mammals including people, pet cats, marine mammals, and birds. It was introduced into Australia with cats in 1788. There is no vaccine for it. It is widespread both in feral cats and some domestic cats too.
How widespread? The Sheep Connect Tasmania Feral Cats factsheet (2013) says "more than 80 per cent of feral cats trapped in Tasmania have had toxoplasmosis at some time in their lives. All infected cats can spread toxo."
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They excrete it into the environment in their faeces, which can then transmit the disease via contaminated soil, sand, fodder, and water for over a year after the infected cat defecated the eggs.
These eggs transmit to prey animals including birds and rodents - thereby spreading the parasite far away from the feral cat.
Domestic cats that are allowed to consume mammals such as rodents and birds, have a higher risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.
As a result, the whole environment of that pet cat is in danger of contracting toxo. Its owners, any neighbouring properties it roams to, and even more wildlife.
The WA Feral Cat Working Group states toxoplasmosis "can infect any bird or mammal and can result in anorexia, lethargy, reduced coordination, apparent blindness, disorientation, breathing difficulties, jaundice, fever, abortion, and death."
This is replicated in worldwide research. In Australia, feral cats are found right across the mainland and on over offshore 100 islands. Wherever any feral cats exist - so does toxoplasmosis.
I call for the federal government to add toxoplasmosis to the listed threatening processes of feral cats in Australia.
- Lisette Mill, Natural Resource Manager and regular feral cat trapper, Victoria.