Australian Feral Cat What is a Feral Cat?

Feral cats are wild cats that evolved from ordinary domestic cats that escaped from their human environment and reverted to being wild animals. They look pretty much like the common every day household cat. The key difference is that they are wild.

There were no cats of any sort in Australia prior to the arrival of European settlers in 1788.

How the Cat Arrived in Australia How Did the Cat Come to Australia?

Cats arrived in Australia with the first European settlers on the First Fleet in 1788. (There is some speculation that they may have first arrived on Dutch shipwrecks off the coast of Western Australia.) It was common practice at that time of all vessels to have their compliment of "ship's cats". They were kept on board to control vermin such as rats, mice and cockroaches on-board ships. Once in Australia these animals were brought ashore for the same purpose, namely, to keep pests at bay. Besides domestic cats that escaped many cats were also intentionally released around farmland and homesteads to control rats, mice and rabbits. Many of these animals and their descendants then became feral.

Feral Cat vs. Stray Cat

Stray cats are homeless domestic pets. They will still interact with humans.
Feral cats were born in the wild, and were never socialised to humans. They will not interact with humans. Attempts to re-domesticate feral cats have been mostly unsuccessful.

Description of the Feral Cat What Does a Feral Cat Look Like?

Feral cats are solitary nocturnal, placental mammals that look pretty much like the common every day household cat. Feral cats are usually leaner, slightly larger and more muscular than the average house cats. They have a typical body length of 40-60cm. Feral cats can weigh between 3 to 4 kgs, but some have been reported to weigh as much as 6kgs! The male is larger than the female. Most feral cats are shorted haired cats. The tabby cat and ginger coloured cats are the most common. Other colours are tortoise-shell, grey and black. Long haired and white cats are very rare.

Feral Cat Diet What do Feral Cats Eat?

Feral cats are carnivores, meaning they only consume animal matter. They prefer live prey but will scavenge for carrion (dead animal remains) when food is scarce. Cats are ambush hunters; stalking their prey, pouncing on them, grabbing them by the neck and throttling their prey to death. They will attack animals up to their own body mass in size.

The feral cat's diet consist of native animals such as small marsupials, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. They also feed on other introduced animals such as rabbits, rats and mice thus helping to keep these animal numbers in check. An average feral cat requires about 300 grams of food per day.

Feral Cat Habitat Where Do Feral Cats Live?

Feral cats have adapted well to the Australian environment. They are found throughout Australia except in the wettest rain forests in the north. Their population density varies with the largest concentrations found in human modified environments such close to cities, farms and garbage dumps and on some small islands from where their isolation has resulted in large populations. In general, they are found in varying numbers throughout all of Australia.

Feral cats, being nocturnal animals, spend the day sheltered in the abandoned rabbit burrows, in dense scrub, inside hollow logs or any other structure that offer them shelter.

Depending on availability of food, their home ranges can extent to as large as 10 sq km. Males have larger home ranges than females.

Feral Cat Reproduction Feral Cat Babies

From the age of about one year, feral cats can breed in any season. They have up to two litters of about four kittens each year, but few of the young survive.

Dingoes and foxes may restrict feral cat numbers by both direct predation and competition. Feral cats also fall prey to wedge-tailed eagles.

Feral Cat Population of Australia How Many Feral Cats in Australia?

The actual number of feral cats in Australia is unknown. Figure put forward vary from 15-20 million to even 23 million feral cats in Australia. That would mean that there is one wild cat living somewhere in Australia for every man, woman and child living in Australia! A figure of 18 million feral cats is used frequently in technical documentation but there is no credible identifiable source for this number. The numbers are just plain conjuncture — guesses.

Given the widespread and rapid decline in certain types of native wild life it is reasonable to assume that the feral cat population, which fluctuates due to environmental factors, probably numbers in the many millions.

Feral Cat Impact on the Australian Environment What Damage do Feral Cats Cause?

The impact of feral cats on native Australian fauna is indeed real and significant. However there is a lot of misinformation as to the true extent of the damage they are inflicting on native animals.

Known Facts Real Facts

Feral cats are ferocious apex predators. Most native animals have not evolved sufficient defence responses against a foreign apex hunter such as the cat and easily fall prey to them.
Feral Cats are a Serious Threat to Native Fauna. Environmental scientists generally agree that that the feral cat is the most serious threat to smaller native Australian wildlife.
Threatened Native Animals. Feral cats are thought to threaten the existence of 35 species of birds, 36 mammals, 7 reptiles and 3 amphibians.
Feral Cats have probably contributed to the extinction. Many small to medium-sized native Australian animals and ground-nesting birds are now extinct due to predation by feral cats.

The Unknown Fake Facts

Number of Native Animals Killed. One claim is the feral cats kill 7 million native animals each day. This equates to 27 billion animals killed by feral cats in Australia each year! Another claim puts the number killed at 20 billion an year. (These numbers equate to more than three times the population of humans living on the earth!). There is no credible scientific evidence to support these claim. These numbers were derived by extrapolating the number of animal remains found inside the stomachs of some feral cats and multiplying these by the estimated number of feral cats in Australia. In both cases the large (more frightening) numbers were used without consideration as to how long these prey may have been in the cats stomach (i.e. could be over a number of days) and the variations in the sizes and the animals killed and assumed that all feral cats had he same kill rates throughout Australia.
Feral Cats Transmit Diseases. There is no clear evidence that these cats are unique in their ability to transmit diseases to other animals.

The Verdict

The general consensus is that feral cats are responsible for the serious depletion of certain types on native Australian fauna. An accurate estimate of the number of feral cats in Australia and their true kill rates are not known.

Related: Introduced Animals of Australia

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