Feral predators – ‘super’ cats, foxes and dingoes

3 07 2008

cat and bilbyHere’s one to get us going. A recent news item on ABC News discusses the prospect of importing so-called ‘super cats’ (‘savannah cats’ = domestic cat x African serval) into Australia. Although most of the items and people commenting on the subject deplore the very notion, I cannot believe that there was the legal capacity to import these things in the first place! Or indeed, that the company attempting to commit the heinous conservation crime has the right even to exist in this country. You’d think we’d learn after swamp buffalo, cane toads, foxes and a host of other alien nasties have caused Australian fauna to experience some of the higher rates of extinction known in the modern context. Indeed, it is my opinion that all cats (domestic and otherwise) should be declared illegal in Australia and destroyed. This is where it gets interesting though. One for the ‘papers to watch’ categories is by a mate and colleague of mine, Professor Chris Johnson of James Cook University in Townsville. He and his colleagues last year published a paper in Proc. R. Soc. B. called ‘Rarity of a top predator triggers continent-wide collapse of mammal prey: dingoes and marsupials in Australia‘.

dingo-21Here, they showed how dingoes (themselves ‘alien species’, but from some time ago) actually appear to suppress the populations of more recent alien predator arrivals (e.g., cats and foxes). The upshot is that more dingoes = fewer cats/foxes = more native fauna. Brilliant! I hope we can say in a few years how the careful management of dingoes and promotion of their conservation has benefitted an array of threatened marsupials in Australia. Well done Chris and colleagues.

CJA Bradshaw