FACT SHEET AND PROJECT UPDATES
Updated 2016 and 2017
This project involves practical action to improve the long-term viability of Christmas Island’s native biodiversity, including recovery of 10 listed threatened species, through eradication of stray and feral cats.
Year 2 update (6-year project)
Overview of progress
- The first island-wide deployment of Eradicat® feral cat baits was completed, with over 16,000 baits deployed through the forest during June and October 2015. At the same time a baiting and trapping program was carried out by WA Department of Parks and Wildlife on roads, tracks and in the township.
- A second season of forest baiting undertaken during 2016 concentrated on targeted areas of the island and also incorporated shooting and trapping to capture feral cats wary of baits. However, as the unseasonably wet conditions resulted in the baits rapidly decaying, the forest baiting component had to be ceased early.
- The program to de-sex and register cats in town is complete, and domestic pet cats are no longer breeding. No further cats are allowed onto the island as pets. Ongoing management of stray cats around the township has resulted in the removal of 600 stray cats to date.
- Park staff are currently trialing novel elevated trapping platforms for cage traps around the town perimeter. Initial results are promising and this trial will be expanded to include the forest track network.
- High density motion sensor camera monitoring arrays have been established across the island. These will provide cat incidence and occupancy data that can be compared over time.
- Researchers from the National Environmental Science Program’s Threatened Species Hub will be monitoring biodiversity responses to feral cat removal and developing strategies to support the eradication of cats from the island.
Overview of progress
- Two pre-bait activity monitoring surveys were undertaken in early 2015 to gauge the effectiveness of island-wide cat control, using eighty motion sensor cameras and spotlighting along road and track networks. Post-bait monitoring will be undertaken annually to track trends in relative abundance of cats.
- The first island-wide deployment of Eradicat® feral cat baits was completed. Over 16,000 baits were deployed through the forest during the dry season between June and October 2015. The baiting was undertaken simultaneously with the biennial island-wide survey of crazy ants and red crabs. Five percent of these baits were monitored for uptake with 12 per cent of these baits considered likely to have been taken by individual cats.
- The WA Department of Parks and Wildlife baited all roads and tracks on the island. They also trapped stray cats around the township, and undertook the annual domestic cat survey.
- Results from the National Environmental Research Program (NERP) University of Queensland project investigating interaction between feral cats and their prey show that some rat control is warranted, with the outcome of cat eradication to benefit from robust rat control.
- More camera trap monitoring is planned for January to March 2016 and spotlighting will also be repeated in April. Post-baiting results and pre-baiting surveys will then be compared.
- Shooting, trapping and other techniques will take place over 2016 to capture feral cats wary of baits.
The Threatened Species Commissioner has mobilised a $500,000 contribution from the Australian Government towards Christmas Island's feral cat eradication plan.
In August, a bold plan was announced to completely eradicate feral cats from Christmas Island. This $500,000 boost will contribute to a long-term eradication plan, alongside the contributions of other partners and action on other key threats such as rats and crazy ants.
$500,000 contribution to a long-term project.
The eradication plan is underpinned by an enduring cat-control partnership between the Australian Government, the local community, biodiversity experts and major on-island organisations including the Shire of Christmas Island and Christmas Island Phosphates.
Eradicating feral cats will take a number of years and funding will come from a range of partners. The island's phosphate mine has earmarked $1.35 million for cat eradication through an environmental offset, to be matched by the Australian Government. Additional partners will also be sought.
Feral cats are a major threat to Christmas Island's wildlife and are implicated in the decline of the island's native reptiles, including the Christmas Island forest skink which is thought to have become extinct earlier this year. There are estimated to be hundreds of feral cats on the island, and they combine with other invasive predators such as rats, crazy ants, wolf snakes and giant centipedes to present a fearsome threat to native species.
Eradication is only possible because of the foundation laid by the Christmas Island community. Christmas Island already requires pet owners to register and desex all domestic cats on the island, and no new cats may be brought in. Over recent years, Christmas Island National Park, the Shire, Christmas Island Phosphates, Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and the WA Government have pooled resources to keep feral cat numbers down. Through baiting in settled areas, more than 600 feral cats have already been removed. This resulted in great benefits for seabirds, with a 90 per cent jump in breeding success for the red-tailed tropicbird which nests in nearby cliffs.
Species to benefit
The critically endangered Christmas Island flying-fox, forest birds including the endangered emerald dove and thrush, ground-nesting seabirds and native reptiles. Eradication of feral cats will also have socio-economic benefits for the island. For example, feral cats are known to play a role in spreading toxoplasmosis and other diseases that affect humans.