Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Companion Animals".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 December 2019) | Viewed by 69318

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Perth, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
Interests: animal ecology; animal behaviour; predation; feral animals

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Guest Editor
School of Environmental and Conservation Sciences, Murdoch University, Perth, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
Interests: animal welfare; ecophysiology; ecology; conservation; stray and feral cat biology; invasive animal biology and control; disturbance ecology; development of animal welfare assessment tools

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Cats were domesticated approximately 10,000 years ago (although cats, if asked, would probably state that they domesticated humans). Today, cats are distributed globally, with the ecological status of their populations often defined by their relationships with people. Lifestyles range from pet cats confined constantly to human premises, pet cats supported by human households but able to roam freely, unowned semi-feral cats at least partially supported by people, and feral cats with self-sustaining, independent populations. In all cases, cats may interact with local wildlife by hunting, transmitting diseases and interbreeding.

These interactions give rise to many important questions, including:

  1. Are wildlife populations endangered by cats?
  2. If they are endangered, how can they be protected? What differences are required for pets as opposed to semi-feral or truly feral cats?
  3. What welfare issues, involving both cats and wildlife, must be addressed?
  4. How well do different stakeholder groups including veterinarians, pet owners, ecologists and animal welfare professionals communicate with each other regarding the interactions of cats and wildlife?
  5. Can cats protect wildlife populations by controlling rodents that prey on wildlife?

This Special Issue welcomes contributions on these questions in literature reviews, empirical research papers, or opinion pieces.

Assoc. Prof. Michael C. Calver
Assoc.Prof. Trish Fleming
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • urban wildlife
  • hybridisation
  • communication
  • mesopredator release
  • doomed surplus hypothesis
  • biodiversity hotspot
  • wildlife disease

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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22 pages, 2851 KiB  
Article
Evidence for Citation Networks in Studies of Free-Roaming Cats: A Case Study Using Literature on Trap–Neuter–Return (TNR)
by Michael C. Calver and Patricia A. Fleming
Animals 2020, 10(6), 993; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10060993 - 6 Jun 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 4897
Abstract
Trap–Neuter–Return and its variants (hereafter TNR) aims to control unowned cat populations. Papers on this topic form a useful case study of how how an area of literature grows, papers become influential, and citation networks form, influencing future study as well as public [...] Read more.
Trap–Neuter–Return and its variants (hereafter TNR) aims to control unowned cat populations. Papers on this topic form a useful case study of how how an area of literature grows, papers become influential, and citation networks form, influencing future study as well as public perceptions of the science. We analysed 145 TNR studies published 2002–2019. Common topics, identified by frequently used language, were population control, interactions with wildlife, disease transmission (including implications for pets, wildlife and humans), free-roaming cats, and feral and domestic cat management. One or more papers on each of these topics was judged influential because of high citations overall, high average citations/year, or frequent mentions in social media. Open Access papers were more influential in social media, raising greater public awareness than studies published in journals that were less accessible. While divergent views exist on a range of topics, the network analysis of the TNR literature indicated potential for forming self-reinforcing groups of authors. While it is encouraging that diverse views are expressed, there is a risk of reduced dialogue interactions between groups, potentially constraining dialogue to refine arguments, share information, or plan research. Journal editors could encourage communication by choosing reviewers from different camps to assess manuscripts and by asking authors to acknowledge alternative views. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
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23 pages, 2388 KiB  
Article
Body Size and Bite Force of Stray and Feral Cats—Are Bigger or Older Cats Taking the Largest or More Difficult-to-Handle Prey?
by Patricia A. Fleming, Heather M. Crawford, Clare H. Auckland and Michael C. Calver
Animals 2020, 10(4), 707; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10040707 - 17 Apr 2020
Cited by 23 | Viewed by 6962
Abstract
As carnivorans rely heavily on their head and jaws for prey capture and handling, skull morphology and bite force can therefore reflect their ability to take larger or more difficult-to-handle prey. For 568 feral and stray cats (Felis catus), we recorded [...] Read more.
As carnivorans rely heavily on their head and jaws for prey capture and handling, skull morphology and bite force can therefore reflect their ability to take larger or more difficult-to-handle prey. For 568 feral and stray cats (Felis catus), we recorded their demographics (sex and age), source location (feral or stray) and morphological measures (body mass, body condition); we estimated potential bite force from skull measurements for n = 268 of these cats, and quantified diet composition from stomach contents for n = 358. We compared skull measurements to estimate their bite force and determine how it varied with sex, age, body mass, body condition. Body mass had the strongest influence of bite force. In our sample, males were 36.2% heavier and had 20.0% greater estimated bite force (206.2 ± 44.7 Newtons, n = 168) than females (171.9 ± 29.3 Newtons, n = 120). However, cat age was the strongest predictor of the size of prey that they had taken, with older cats taking larger prey. The predictive power of this relationship was poor though (r2 < 0.038, p < 0.003), because even small cats ate large prey and some of the largest cats ate small prey, such as invertebrates. Cats are opportunistic, generalist carnivores taking a broad range of prey. Their ability to handle larger prey increases as the cats grow, increasing their jaw strength, and improving their hunting skills, but even the smallest cats in our sample had tackled and consumed large and potentially ‘dangerous’ prey that would likely have put up a defence. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
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15 pages, 2837 KiB  
Article
Using Genetics to Evaluate the Success of a Feral Cat (Felis catus) Control Program in North-Western Australia
by Saul Cowen, Lucy Clausen, Dave Algar and Sarah Comer
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1050; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121050 - 1 Dec 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 3303
Abstract
The feral cat has been implicated in the decline and extinction of many species worldwide and a range of strategies have been devised for its control. A five-year control program using the aerial broadcast of toxic Eradicat® baits was undertaken at Fortescue [...] Read more.
The feral cat has been implicated in the decline and extinction of many species worldwide and a range of strategies have been devised for its control. A five-year control program using the aerial broadcast of toxic Eradicat® baits was undertaken at Fortescue Marsh in the Pilbara region of north-western Australia, for the protection of biodiversity in this important wetland area. This program has been shown to have had a significant detrimental effect on cats in this landscape, but the long-term impact is difficult to ascertain. We assessed population genetics across three cohorts of feral cats sampled as part of the control program. We also compared cat populations in natural habitats and around human infrastructure. A key challenge in any study of wild animal populations is small sample sizes and feral cats are particularly difficult to capture and sample. The results of this study superficially appear to suggest promising trends but were limited by sample size and many were not statistically significant. We find that the use of genetic techniques to monitor the impact of invasive species control programs is potentially useful, but ensuring adequate sample sizes over a long enough time-frame will be critical to the success of such studies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
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11 pages, 979 KiB  
Article
Can Responsible Ownership Practices Influence Hunting Behavior of Owned Cats?: Results from a Survey of Cat Owners in Chile
by Sebastián Escobar-Aguirre, Raúl A. Alegría-Morán, Javiera Calderón-Amor and Tamara A. Tadich
Animals 2019, 9(10), 745; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100745 - 29 Sep 2019
Cited by 13 | Viewed by 7394
Abstract
The domestic cat (Felis catus) has become a worldwide threat to wildlife. The potential impact of owned cats on wildlife in Chile has not been documented at a large scale. The purpose of this study was to investigate the number and [...] Read more.
The domestic cat (Felis catus) has become a worldwide threat to wildlife. The potential impact of owned cats on wildlife in Chile has not been documented at a large scale. The purpose of this study was to investigate the number and type of prey that owned cats bring back in Chile and its relation with responsible ownership practices. An online survey was distributed to 5216 households that included questions about the type of pet, responsible ownership practices, and in the case of cats, the type of prey they brought home. Descriptive statistics as well as univariate and multivariate logistic regression analysis were applied. The results showed that 94.3% of respondents had a pet, and from these, 49.9% had at least one cat. A total of 84.1% of owners reported that their cats had brought back prey. Birds were the most common type of prey, followed by mammals and insects. Not being registered with a microchip, not having a litter box, living in a house with access to a garden, not having a hiding place for the cats, and having free access to the outdoors significantly increased the odds of cats bringing back prey. Body condition score or providing ad libitum food to cats did not have an effect on bringing prey. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
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11 pages, 241 KiB  
Article
Perceptions of Responsible Cat Ownership Behaviors among a Convenience Sample of Australians
by Alicia Elliott, Tiffani J. Howell, Emily M. McLeod and Pauleen C. Bennett
Animals 2019, 9(9), 703; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090703 - 19 Sep 2019
Cited by 18 | Viewed by 5042
Abstract
Responsible cat ownership is important for keeping pet cats and wildlife safe. Much research investigating levels of compliance with and attitudes towards responsible cat ownership practices has focused on cat owners. Non-owner attitudes are relevant because their opinions may encourage cat-owning friends and [...] Read more.
Responsible cat ownership is important for keeping pet cats and wildlife safe. Much research investigating levels of compliance with and attitudes towards responsible cat ownership practices has focused on cat owners. Non-owner attitudes are relevant because their opinions may encourage cat-owning friends and family to engage (or not) in a cat management practice. The aim of this study was to determine levels of compliance with responsible cat ownership practices among cat owners, as well as attitudes towards those behaviors by owners and non-owners alike. An online survey was completed by 6808 people living in Australia who were recruited via companion animal or wildlife interest groups on social media. Frequency data were used to measure owner compliance with responsible cat ownership behaviors and t-tests were used to determine whether owners and non-owners differed in their attitudes towards these behaviors. Owner compliance with responsible practices ranged from 46.5% (complete cat containment all day and night) to 76.9% (cat is de-sexed). Owner attitudes towards these practices were generally more positive than the reported levels of management practices implemented for their own cat. For example, 47.3% of owners agreed or strongly agreed that cats should always be contained and 88.6% agreed that cats should be contained at night. Non-owners were more likely than owners to agree that cats should be contained during the day, but there was no difference for containment at night. Owners were more likely to report that cats should be de-sexed. These results can be used to inform campaigns aimed at increasing compliance with responsible cat ownership behaviors. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
15 pages, 1148 KiB  
Article
Cat Gets Its Tern: A Case Study of Predation on a Threatened Coastal Seabird
by Claire N. Greenwell, Michael C. Calver and Neil R. Loneragan
Animals 2019, 9(7), 445; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9070445 - 16 Jul 2019
Cited by 32 | Viewed by 20211
Abstract
Domestic cats have a cosmopolitan distribution, commonly residing in urban, suburban and peri-urban environments that are also critical for biodiversity conservation. This study describes the impact of a desexed, free-roaming cat on the behavior of a threatened coastal seabird, the Australian Fairy Tern, [...] Read more.
Domestic cats have a cosmopolitan distribution, commonly residing in urban, suburban and peri-urban environments that are also critical for biodiversity conservation. This study describes the impact of a desexed, free-roaming cat on the behavior of a threatened coastal seabird, the Australian Fairy Tern, Sternula nereis nereis, in Mandurah, south-western Australia. Wildlife cameras and direct observations of cat incursions into the tern colony at night, decapitated carcasses of adult terns, dead, injured or missing tern chicks, and cat tracks and scats around the colony provided strong evidence of cat predation, which led to an initial change in nesting behavior and, ultimately, colony abandonment and the reproductive failure of 111 nests. The death of six breeding terns from the population was a considerable loss for this threatened species and had the potential to limit population growth. This study highlights the significant negative impacts of free-roaming cats on wildlife and the need for monitoring and controlling cats at sites managed for species conservation. It also provides strong evidence against the practice of trap-neuter-release programs and demonstrates that desexed cats can continue to negatively impact wildlife post-release directly through predation, but also indirectly through fundamental changes in prey behavior and a reduction in parental care. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
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10 pages, 221 KiB  
Article
Measuring the Welfare Impact of Soft-Catch Leg-Hold Trapping for Feral Cats on Non-Target By-Catch
by Chantal Surtees, Michael C. Calver and Peter R. Mawson
Animals 2019, 9(5), 217; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9050217 (registering DOI) - 5 May 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 3675
Abstract
To inform trapping protocols to reduce by-catch while trapping feral cats by-catch welfare costs should be quantified. During cat trapping programs at six Western Australian sites from 1997–2015, 431 non-target individuals, including 232 individuals from native species (132 mammals, 52 birds and 42 [...] Read more.
To inform trapping protocols to reduce by-catch while trapping feral cats by-catch welfare costs should be quantified. During cat trapping programs at six Western Australian sites from 1997–2015, 431 non-target individuals, including 232 individuals from native species (132 mammals, 52 birds and 42 reptiles) were captured. Among the native fauna; birds were more likely to be severely injured (33%, compared to 12% in mammals and 21% in reptiles). Amongst other vertebrates, larger individuals were less likely to be injured. Olfactory lures used in these studies attracted reptiles, but repelled mammals. By-catch varied with climate and landscape. Trap injury to by-catch species poses ethical concerns, especially for threatened species that can least afford an additional threat. Future trapping should consider the timing of trapping, trap placement, trap settings (especially the treadle pressure needed to close the trap) and new innovations sending immediate capture alerts to minimise by-catch and potential injury associated with prolonged restraint. By-catch welfare data should be analysed to identify best practice and on-going improvement. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)

Review

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16 pages, 466 KiB  
Review
Change the Humans First: Principles for Improving the Management of Free-Roaming Cats
by Lynette J. McLeod, Donald W. Hine and Aaron B. Driver
Animals 2019, 9(8), 555; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9080555 - 14 Aug 2019
Cited by 31 | Viewed by 5953
Abstract
In Australia, free-roaming cats can be found in urban and rural areas across the country. They are inherently difficult to manage but it is frequently human behaviour that demands the most attention and is in most need of change. To the frustration of [...] Read more.
In Australia, free-roaming cats can be found in urban and rural areas across the country. They are inherently difficult to manage but it is frequently human behaviour that demands the most attention and is in most need of change. To the frustration of policy makers and practitioners, scientific knowledge, technological developments, and legal and institutional innovations, often run afoul of insufficient public capacity, opportunity and motivation to act. This paper demonstrates how the behavioural science literature can provide important insights into maximising the impact of free-roaming cat control activities within an ethical framework that prioritises acting “with” all stakeholders, rather than “on” stakeholders. By better understanding how human values, attitudes and beliefs are shaped, practitioners can more effectively and respectfully interact with how people interpret the world around them, make choices and behave. This literature also has much to say about why certain types of media and marketing messages elicit behaviour change and why other types fall flat. Finally, in addition to explaining the behavioural science and its implications, this review provides researchers, policy makers and engagement specialists with an inclusive, practical framework for conceptualising behaviour change and working to ensure land managers, cat owners and the general public can agree on and adopt best practices for managing free-roaming cats. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
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Other

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12 pages, 243 KiB  
Perspective
Assessing Risks to Wildlife from Free-Roaming Hybrid Cats: The Proposed Introduction of Pet Savannah Cats to Australia as a Case Study
by Christopher R. Dickman, Sarah M. Legge and John C. Z. Woinarski
Animals 2019, 9(10), 795; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100795 - 14 Oct 2019
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 10790
Abstract
Hybrid cats—created by crossing different species within the family Felidae—are popular pets, but they could potentially threaten native species if they escape and establish free-roaming populations. To forestall this possibility, the Australian government imposed a specific ban on importation of the savannah cat, [...] Read more.
Hybrid cats—created by crossing different species within the family Felidae—are popular pets, but they could potentially threaten native species if they escape and establish free-roaming populations. To forestall this possibility, the Australian government imposed a specific ban on importation of the savannah cat, a hybrid created by crossing the domestic cat Felis catus and serval Leptailurus serval, in 2008. We develop a decision–framework that identifies those species of non-volant native mammals in Australia that would likely have been susceptible to predation by savannah cats if importation and establishment had occurred. We assumed that savannah cats would hunt ecologically similar prey to those that are depredated by both the domestic cat and the serval, and categorised native mammals as having different levels of susceptibility to predation by savannah cats based on their size, habitat range, and behaviour. Using this framework, we assessed savannah cats as likely to add at least 28 extant native mammal species to the 168 that are known already to be susceptible to predation by the domestic cat, posing a risk to 91% of Australia’s extant non-volant terrestrial mammal species (n = 216) and to 93% of threatened mammal species. The framework could be generalised to assess risks from any other hybrid taxa. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
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