NT undertakes biggest feral cat eradication project in the world

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Feral cats have become a global problem as many countries fight the destruction these predators cause to their native animal populations. As the Australian feral cat problem grows, delicate native populations are being decimated to extremes of extinction.

Cats are playing a major part of Australia having the worst mammal extinction rate in the world.

The ABC reported that NT is about to embark on the largest feral cat eradication project in the world, and will eventually span 100,000 hectares.  

Australian Wildlife Conservancy national operations manager Tim Allard said it was a solution to a very big problem.

"The feral cat, the numbers vary, but they're decimating millions of native species every night," he said.

"We want to get rid of feral cats. At the moment the best way we can do that is by building a fence, eradicating feral animals from within it, and reintroducing native animals.

Native species to return

Mr Allard said weeds, mismanaged fire, and feral animals were the biggest threats to Australia's native animal population.

By keeping feral animals out, it is hoped the sanctuary will see the return of 10 native species, including the central rock rat, mala, numbats, bilbies and phascogales.

Throughout next year, Newhaven Warlpiri Rangers — many of them skilled cat hunters — will work with scientists to kill the cats, rabbits and foxes inside. The first mammals will be reintroduced to the enclosure in 2019.

According to Mr Allard, it is hard to determine how long it will take for the populations to properly return once the fence is up.

"Based on previous experience, what we've just done with our Mt Gibson property in Western Australia, it's a pretty immediate outcome that you get," he said. 

"Our first species were the brush-tailed bettong, [that] we reintroduced at Mt Gibson, and within a matter of months they were already having juvenile bettongs.

"We introduced bilbies, they were reproducing, and so on with the numbats.

"So it doesn't take long to remove the threats, give them a habitat that they can survive in, and they'll look after themselves."

The federal government has contributed $750,000 to the work, and Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews says this is “huge bang for our buck in the fight against extinction”.

Keeping the killers out

Newhaven sanctuary manager Joe Schofield said almost 20 kilometres had been cleared so far for the fence line.

"The fence will be about 1.8 metres in height and it will have a floppy top, so the mesh curves over at the top and is supported by high tensile wires," he said. 

Fencing to keep cats out

"There will be netting with skirts at the base to stop animals digging to get in or out. There will be two electric wires as well that run on the outside."

Mr Schofield said there would also be regular fence checks to make sure the perimeter had not been breached.

He said all going well, stage one should be finished by February.

But with the possible return of so many native animals, the question has been asked, could the night parrot crop up once more?

According to Mr Schofield, it is unlikely.

"It'd be lovely to think that they could be here. Night parrots have been found in areas that have very, very specific habitats," he said.

"Unfortunately the fire histories in Australia over the last 100 years have meant that that specific habitat is so restricted, and the likelihood of them being here currently is very low I believe.

"Having predators excluded from the area opens up all sorts of possibilities for the future, particularly when you look at the scale of stage two where we'll be stepping it up to an area 10 times the size of this initial stage."  

The area is expected to become a tourist drawcard. "You'll be able to walk around and see bilbies, numbats, phascogales. It's going to be a fantastic place to be.

"We're pretty sure it's going to be a drawcard for people to come to Central Australia.

"Central Australia is a wonderful place as it is. This is just going to add more value to the reason for coming here."

 


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