Mandurah endangered bird-killings sparks call for feral cat policing

The Peel Catchment Council chief executive and an environmental researcher have called for feral cats to be legally declared a pest after dozens of endangered birds were recently killed in Mandurah.

The cat, believed to have killed 40 chicks and at least five adult fairy terns in December, was euthanised by the City of Mandurah after failed attempts at trapping the animal.

Murdoch University PhD researcher Claire Greenwell said the colony left the sanctuary following the incident. 

“Unfortunately there was so much disturbance after the cat entered the sanctuary, that they didn’t stay,” she said.

“The risks of possible predation was too high.”

Ms Greenwell said cat ownership laws had to change to ensure the protection of native species.

Feral cats are not declared pests in Australia, which makes controlling cats extremely difficult.

Murdoch University PhD researcher Claire Greenwell

“Feral cats are not declared pests in Australia, which makes controlling cats extremely difficult,” she said. 

“We definitely need a change in our laws to be able to improve conservation outcomes for all Australian native species.

“At the moment there are no laws in WA requiring people to keep their cats indoors at night.

“Any cat outdoors at night is up to no good.

One cat as you've seen, is enough to wipe out an entire colony.

Murdoch University PhD researcher Claire Greenwell

“For a nesting bird species, one cat as you've seen, is enough to wipe out an entire colony.”

Ms Greenwell said Australia-wide changes were needed, but state and local governments could also assist. 

“Being able to change cat laws would make such a major difference to wildlife,” she said. 

“Everybody is so weak when it comes to this issue, because of the cat lovers.

“It’s a mammoth task, but we cant just just leave things as they are.”

It’s a mammoth task, but we cant just just leave things as they are.

Murdoch University PhD researcher Claire Greenwell

The WA Cat Act enables local governments to have their own specific laws around domestic cats.  

Ms Greenwell said feral pests were causing issues “every day of the week”. 

She said 70 to 80 fairy tern pairs were targeted at Point Walter in Bicton, sometime in the last three weeks.

“I recently had a similar report in Leeman, we are not sure if it was a feral cat or fox,” Ms Greenwell said. 

“It’s happening to beach nesting birds everyday.”​

Ms Greenwell said all was not lost at the Mandurah sanctuary.

“It’s a real shame for Mandurah after all the community support and volunteers who made the sanctuary such a success in the first place,” she said. 

“We expect them to come back next year to have a look, but we need to make sure we manage the site better in the future to ensure breeding birds are better protected.”

Peel Harvey Catchment Council chief executive Jane O’Malley said the organisation had “strongly” advocated over several years for feral cats to be declared pests.

The organisation had sent letters to Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson and Tourism Minister Paul Papalia to support the listing.

“We would also like to see feral cats listed on the Biodiversity Conservation Act (2016),” Ms O’Malley said. 

The organisation, part of the Fairy Tern Working Group, will engage local authorities ahead of the next breeding season to mitigate the impacts of feral cats. 

Ms O’Malley said the ongoing management of cats’ impact on the environment needed to be open to community discussion.

City of Mandurah chief executive Mark Newman said the feral cat was not micro-chipped or registered. 

“After numerous attempts to prevent the cat from entering the sanctuary, it was trapped and euthanised,” he said.

“As a result, the fairy terns abandoned the sanctuary however it is believed that two surviving juvenile birds successfully fledged a few days ago.

“Our officers, partners and many volunteers put in an enormous effort to help them breed and we are devastated that this has not been completely successful.”

Mr Newman reminded cat owners of their obligations.

“Cat owners are required to microchip, sterilise and register their cats,” he said.

“Owners are also encouraged to keep their animals confined to their properties. 

“The city also manages a trapping program for residents experiencing problems with wandering cats and residents are encouraged to contact us to arrange for a trap at their property.”