The feral cat is found in most habitats across Australia. It has caused the extinction of some species on islands and is thought to have contributed to the disappearance of many ground dwelling birds and mammals on the mainland. On islands, feral cat control is feasible, but elsewhere management is difficult due to the lack of effective and humane broad scale control techniques and the presence of domestic cats.
Cats have been in Australia at least since European settlement, and may have arrived with Dutch shipwrecks in the 17th century. By the 1850s, feral cat colonies had become established in the wild. Intentional releases were made in the late 1800s in the hope that cats would control rabbits, rats and mice. Feral cats are now found in most habitats on the mainland, Tasmania and many offshore islands, although not in the wettest rainforests.
For management purposes, cats are divided into three categories – domestic, stray and feral – although individual cats may move between categories. Domestic cats are owned and cared for, and stray cats are those found roaming cities, towns and some rural holdings. Feral cats, which survive without any human contact or assistance, are the main target of control programs.
Feral cats are solitary and predominantly nocturnal, spending most of the day in the safety of a shelter such as a burrow, blackberry bush, log or rock pile. Rabbits have aided their spread by providing food and burrows for shelter. Males usually occupy a home range of ten square kilometres but this may be larger if food supplies are scarce.
Feral cats are carnivores and can survive with limited access to water, as they use moisture from their prey. They generally eat small mammals, but also catch birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects, taking prey up to the size of a brush-tail possum. In pastoral regions, they feed largely on young rabbits, but in other areas feral cats prey mainly on native animals.
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. Dingos and foxes may restrict feral cat numbers by both direct predation and competition. Feral cats also fall prey to wedge-tailed eagles.
Feral cats carry infectious diseases such as toxoplasmosis and sarcosporidiosis, which can be transmitted to native animals, domestic livestock and humans.
Feral cats can be tough to eradicate so with a .22 rimfire close in shots are best and shots to the head or neck with high velocity .22 ammo are recommended. I have witnessed the Editor put a .22 LR High Velocity HP into the chest of a feral cat marauding around a warren from 30 metres and it ran away to be unrecoverable.
Depending on the size of property for the reason of safety, the .223 and other similar centrefire calibers will do a good humane job on feral cats. Also the fox whistle and predator type callers can help in attracting the feral cat and also glassing around rabbit warrens can be productive in finding them in the first place.
The black feral cat in the photo was called in with the wooden type predator call and dispatched with a 6.5 x 55. The grey cat was hanging around some blackberry bushes and the .308 at hand was plenty of rifle for the job.