New weapon against feral cats in detector dog trial

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson with a detector dog
Environment Minister Stephen Dawson with a detector dog DBCA

An innovative trial using expertly trained dogs to detect feral cats in a Wheatbelt reserve could help protect threatened species, such as numbats and woylies.

In stage one of the trial this month, three dogs - a Malinois, a Terrier cross and a Labrador cross - and their handlers are working in Tutanning Nature Reserve, near Pingelly, to detect the presence of feral cats.

Stage two, scheduled for 2019, will determine their effectiveness, in comparison with other control techniques and test combining techniques, to win the fight against feral cats. The dogs are trained to not attack the cats or native animals.

Tutanning Nature Reserve is home to several threatened species that are vulnerable to feral cat predation, including numbats, woylies, chuditch and red-tailed phascogales.

The trial is funded by a $165,000 grant from the Australian Government, which has been matched by the Foundation for Australia's Most Endangered Species (FAME), and is being carried out by the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

Comments attributed to Environment Minister Stephen Dawson:

"Introduced predators such as foxes and feral cats have been the key factor in the decline of small mammal species in WA, and the McGowan Labor Government is committed to finding new, innovative ways to complement existing cat control methods.

"Under our leading wildlife conservation program, Western Shield, we are aiming to recover native animal populations in the wild through broadscale fox and feral cat baiting, however, we are always looking at new ways to protect our native animals.

"If we can use dogs to identify areas of the highest cat activity, we can make more informed decisions about how, when and where to target feral cats with the aim of reducing the threat of predation on species like numbats and woylies.

"I am pleased to see the support of FAME and the Federal Government, including the Threatened Species Commissioner, in recognising the threat of feral cats in Western Australia and I thank them for their contribution to this important research."