We need to worry about Bella and Charlie: The impacts of pet cats on Australian wildlife

Sarah Legge, John C.Z. Woinarski, Chris R. Dickman, Brett P. Murphy, Leigh Ann Woolley, Mike C. Calver

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Abstract

Research and management attention on the impacts of the introduced domestic cat (Felis catus) on Australian fauna have focussed mainly on the feral population. Here, we summarise the evidence for impacts of predation by pet cats on Australian wildlife. We collate examples of local wildlife population decline and extirpation as a result, at least in part, of predation by pet cats. We assemble information across 66 studies of predation by pet cats worldwide (including 24 Australian studies) to estimate the predation toll of pet cats in Australia, plus the predation pressure per unit area in residential areas. We compared these estimates to those published for feral cats in Australia. The per capita kill rate of pet cats is 25% that of feral cats. However, pet cats live at much higher densities, so the predation rate of pets per square kilometre in residential areas is 28-52 times larger than predation rates by feral cats in natural environments, and 1.3-2.3 times greater than predation rates per km2 by feral cats living in urban areas. Pet cats kill introduced species more often than do feral cats living in natural environments, but, nonetheless, the toll of native animals killed per square kilometre by pet cats in residential areas is still much higher than the toll per square kilometre by feral cats. There is no evidence that pet cats exert significant control of introduced species. The high predation toll of pet cats in residential areas, the documented examples of declines and extirpations in populations of native species caused by pet cats, and potential pathways for other, indirect effects (e.g. from disease, landscapes of fear, ecological footprints), and the context of extraordinary impacts from feral cats on Australian fauna, together support a default position that pet cat impacts are serious and should be reduced. From a technical perspective, the pet cat impacts can be reduced more effectively and humanely than those of feral cats, while also enhancing pet cat welfare. We review the management options for reducing predation by pet cats, and discuss the opportunities and challenges for improved pet cat management and welfare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-539
Number of pages17
JournalWildlife Research
Volume47
Issue number8
Early online dateApr 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

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