French Island sets example on feral cats

2 August 2015

French Island residents find themselves one step ahead of the current national focus on feral cat control, largely due to a successful long-term partnership between Parks Victoria and the community in tackling the problem over recent years. More than 873 feral cats have been removed from the island since the program began and they are aiming for 1,000 before the end of the year.
The issue of feral cats was addressed at Australia’s first Threatened Species Summit held at Melbourne Zoo recently. The Minister for the Environment, the Hon Greg Hunt, released a 2020 strategy that includes aims to eradicate more than two million feral cats and have five cat-free islands nationally.
French Island, which is an internationally recognised Ramsar site, is home to many species of birdlife, including waders, and mammals including the Long-nosed Potaroo. However, it is estimated there may still be up to 1,000 cats, which continue to threaten the native wildlife.
Parks Victoria has run the successful trapping program since 2009 and was joined by private landowners through the French Island Landcare Group in 2012 which has allowed a more integrated, whole-community approach. The program has also included public education sessions. This work has been supported by funding from the regional delivery stream of the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme, which is coordinated locally by the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority.
David Stephenson from Parks Victoria has been working on the feral cat program since its inception. “This is a unique community in that it is both close to urban centres, and yet remote with areas of inaccessible park,” he said. The traps are placed at strategic points to entice the cats out from the National Park. The best trapping year to date was after the drought broke in 2012 and 380 were caught in one season.
Julie Trezise from the French Island Landcare group has been pleased with the change in attitudes to feral cats among islanders, particularly in relation to reducing the numbers of feral cats living in outbuildings and desexing those that remain. “We’ve had a lot of success with people realising not only the damage feral cats can do to native wildlife and birdlife, but also the health risks of them spreading toxoplasmosis,” she said. “The local trapping contractor has strong connections in the community, which also helped build participation.”
It is estimated that birdlife across the island has increased in the past decade, with numbers of ground-nesting birds such as the Cape Barren Goose, for example, reaching over 1,000. The resident Pied Oystercatchers have also increased in numbers which is likely contributed to by the combination of improved habitat conservation and pest control.
The work has funding for the next three years from the National Landcare Programme, enabling Parks Victoria and the French Island Landcare Group to continue to conduct community information activities and initiatives that support the island’s ecological values while maintaining sustainable land management practices.