Kangaroo Island’s endangered species are “looking at extinction” after the deadly summer bushfires unless more is done to eradicate feral cats which are preying on those that survived, conservationists warn.
- Kangaroo Island’s endangered species are at more risk after the summer’s bushfires, conservationists warn
- Feral cats are preying on the few animals that remain after the fires
- Some locals want the eradication program sped up
For more than 20 years, Barry Green — known as the “KI cat man” — has made it his mission to rid the island of feral cats.
He has trapped, killed and skinned about 1,500 feral cats turning their skin into stubby holders, bags and other quirky household items which he sells.
He keeps a record in his notebook of each cat he has killed and turned his American River home into a museum-like shrine to raise awareness about feral cats.
“I’ve spent a lot of money chasing cats around the island,” Mr Green said.
Mr Green has been widely recognised for his two decades of conservation work, including by Natural Resources Kangaroo Island, as the island’s feral cats maim threatened species including the Kangaroo Island dunnart, echidna and bandicoot.
They also cause about $2 million worth of damage to the sheep industry each year.
But he admits he is slowing down and concedes eradicating feral cats was getting harder after recent bushfires.
“They’re breeding faster than they’re dying off,” he said.
“Once bush starts to grow back again, and it has already, they’ll start moving back and start spreading out so I guess now’s the time to really concentrate.”
Protecting the native stronghold
Kangaroo Island is one of five islands in Australia identified by the Federal Government to become feral cat free.
A government-funded feral cat eradication program has been underway since 2015 with the island meant to be free of feral cats by 2030.
But the project leader at Natural Resources KI, Dr James Smith, said he had his “fingers crossed” they would deliver on that plan.
So far, eradication work has taken place on a small pocket on the Dudley Peninsula, on the island’s east.
“There’s been a lot of work done establishing some background information, how many cats there are, what cats do in different landscapes … and what’s the best way to trap them.
“We’ve now removed cats from about 28 square kilometres and we’re slowly expanding that.
“We really need to make sure that we’ve learned all our lessons and we get it right on the Dudley; the rest of the island is about 10 times that size so we’ve just got to take our time and make sure we get it right.”
Part of the work involved building a cat barrier-fence which was meant to be finished in June but Dr Smith said was still some months off being completed.
“There’s been lots of delays, lots of negotiations and renegotiations not only with landholders but also with contractors, to get things right it just takes a long time.”
Locals tired of waiting
Heritage landowner Lara Tilbrook is fed up of waiting and feared it was all too little, too late.
There is currently no feral cat eradication work being done on the western end of the island — an area hit hard by bushfires in January, and where many threatened species, including the dunnart and echidna, live.
“I feel like we’ve just been going around in circles for years now,” Ms Tilbrook said.
“Kangaroo Island is a stronghold for threatened species nationally, not just in this state, obviously they’re predating on the native animals and really putting huge pressure on threatened species.
“We’re just looking at extinction, and extinction is forever.”
Ms Tilbrook, who owns 400 acres of heritage bushland on the north-west end of Kangaroo Island, hired a drone and shooter after the summer bushfires to hunt the feral cats on her and her neighbour’s property.
“After the fires I felt so sad and It was despair that brought me to trial the drones and work with a team to see if we could use the infrared, the thermal drone imaging, to hunt out the cats and really focus in and eradicate that way,” she said.
“We need to use multiple tools to ensure feral cats are eradicated from Kangaroo Island forever.”
Dr Smith it was hard to tell how if cat numbers had been reduced after the fire but there was work being done to try and assess that.
The island’s mayor, Michael Pengilly, said he was “critical of the speed of the program” but still held out hope feral cats could be eradicated from the island if enough work was done.
“There’s just been too much bureaucracy and not enough things happening.
“This is an enormously expensive program, it’s a prototype and we hope it works, it needs to work.”