Shooters safeguard native animals

by Gregory Andrews, Threatened Species Commissioner

Feral cats are a major problem in Australia and licensed shooting is an important part of the solution in tackling them humanely, effectively and justifiably. Ground shooting that is properly carried out and causes instantaneous death is one of the most humane methods of reducing feral cats, according to PestSmart guidelines and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

Feral cats devastate Australia’s wildlife and spread damaging diseases to farmers’ livestock. They have contributed to 28 mammal extinctions and are endangering another 124 nationally-threatened species. The lesser bilby, desert bandicoot and crescent nail-tail wallaby are just some of the distinctive Australian species that the world has lost forever partly because of feral cats. These remarkable creatures, rich in importance in Australian culture, once played key roles in the ecology of our country. We don’t want to lose any more species like these. Numbats, the greater bilby, malas, woylies and quolls are just some of the unique animals Australia is at risk of losing due to feral cats.

In launching Australia’s Threatened Species Strategy in July 2015, Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt committed to tackling feral cats. Mr Hunt set ambitious targets to cull two million feral cats, eradicate feral cats from five islands, create 10 feral free areas and control feral cats using best-practice techniques across 12 million hectares by 2020. Accredited volunteer shooters and the SSAA can help Australia achieve these objectives in a humane, effective and justifiable way, working within state and territory regulations governing hunting of feral animals in their jurisdiction.

Shooters are already lending a hand to recover threatened species across Australia. In South Australia for example, the SSAA has formed the Quoll Protection Group and is supporting the reintroduction of western quolls to the Flinders Ranges. In partnership with the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources and the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species (FAME), 115 feral cats have been removed from the quoll release site since January 2014, using a mix of trapping and shooting. This control work by accredited volunteer shooters has helped western quolls to return home to the Flinders Ranges, with their numbers expected to hit 350 by the end of 2016.

Licensed shooters, operating as part of broader pest management strategies like this one, can be effective partners in saving Australia’s animals from extinction. Accredited volunteer shooters are also aiding farmers through SSAA’s Farmer Assist and other programs to control pest animals on private land. Responsible licensed shooting is seen as an important means of protecting Australian wildlife threatened by feral animals.

Another instance of licensed shooters helping in the fight against extinction is expert marksmen on Dirk Hartog Island, who are part of a bigger campaign to rid this 62,000-hectare island of feral cats and feral goats. This multi-year, multi-million dollar project is creating a safe haven free of feral animals so 10 threatened species of mammals can be reintroduced and serve as insurance populations in case their numbers elsewhere in the wild fall further. Camera traps, aerial shooting, scent lures, audio lures and Judas animals are all part of a concerted eradication effort.

In New South Wales, feral cat tracking and shooting is being used in Kosciusko National Park, where two specially trained detector dogs are sniffing out feral cats and licensed shooters are removing them from the environment. Through this program, shooters are making sure the endangered mountain pygmy possum has the chance to survive and thrive once again.

These are just some of the cases of licensed shooters protecting threatened species. Licensed shooters are a critical part of pest management in this country and Australia needs to do a better job of recording effort and showing how we are limiting the impact of feral cats. Volunteer and professional shooters logging endeavours through tools such as the FeralCatScan app will help to do that. It provides an easy way for everyone to detail how they are helping in the fight against extinction caused by feral cats.

The FeralCatScan mobile app, available for free download on both iPhone and Android devices, allows members of the public easily to record feral cat sightings, damage and control activities. It also allows local groups to create private, secure factions within the app where they can monitor and share their work with those they nominate as part of their network. They can enter data even when they have no mobile reception, because it automatically uploads later when back in range.

This app is about fuelling national effort. If licensed shooters register feral cat sightings and culls using the app, the push they are making to protect our esteemed native animals can be collated and quantified across the country. As information collected via the FeralCatScan app grows, momentum builds to better manage feral cats nationwide. Data is critical to knowing where to concentrate control work and that can only be gathered by people on the ground. As people contribute data, it gives a better idea of where feral cat populations overlap with at-risk native mammals, birds and reptiles, what densities feral cats are reaching, and what toll they are exacting. This local intelligence can then be fed back into regional and national pest management planning.

Our native species are simply not equipped to co-exist with feral cats; they did not evolve alongside this introduced predator. By helping to tackle feral cats, and doing so humanely, you can reduce the damage done by the single biggest threat to our native mammals.

How you can help a local mountain pygmy possum

Talk to your local SSAA branch or your regional natural resource management group to find local feral cat control projects seeking registered, licensed volunteer shooters.
Download the FeralCatScan app to record feral cat sightings, impacts and control activities.
Spread the word about the app to others.
Comply with the regulations governing hunting of pest species in your state or territory.
Follow appropriate animal welfare procedures for shooting of feral cats

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