Pussy cat, pussy cat, run away home… (#211)
Whether owned or semi-feral, roaming urban cats (Felis sylvestris catus) hunt wildlife. Lethal control of excess or roaming cats in urban areas, even in the presence of threatened species, remains unpopular with the public (Loyd and Hernandez 2012). In Australia, buffer-zones adjoining bushland (Lilith et al. 2008), restrictions on cat ownership and time spent outdoors (Lilith et al. 2010), and erection of large-scale specialist fences around areas with threatened wildlife (Somers and Hayward 2012), are the main methods trialled to protect fauna from cat predation. However, they require substantial finance and logistical coordination. A simple, cost-effective method of preventing roaming cats from entering urban wildlife refugia would address public concerns and minimise lethal control.
The CatStop© is a motion-triggered device that startles cats with ultrasonic sound. It has not been tested in Australia, so before it can be recommended research should demonstrate that cats detect, and are deterred by, the ultrasonic sound. The reaction of other urban wildlife also needs to be ascertained. We therefore tested whether: a) cats were responsive to CatStop; and b) four other mammal species were affected. Trials were carried out on wildlife at a fenced conservation park, and on cats at an animal shelter. The behaviours of all cats and wildlife were recorded with cameras, before- during- and after- CatStops were activated.
No wildlife responded to CatStops, beyond pausing normal behaviour or twitching ears towards the device. However, all cats (n=13) detected the CatStop, with stressed/shy cats more likely to react negatively to CatStop (vocalisations, avoidance or escape), than relaxed/friendly cats.
Overall, several common Australian mammals are unfazed by CatStops. In contrast, cats are more sensitive to CatStop, and shy cats are more likely to show avoidance or escape behaviours in field settings. These findings suggest ultrasonic devices may be of some use in deterring cats from hunting in wildlife refugia and may reduce the need for lethal control.
- Loyd K.T., Hernandez S.M. (2012) Public perceptions of domestic cats and preferences for feral cat management in the southeastern United States. Anthrozoos 25(3), 337-351.
- Lilith M., Calver M., Garkaklis M.J. (2008) Roaming habits of pet cats on the suburban fringe in Perth, Western Australia: what size buffer zone is needed to protect wildlife in reserves? In 'Too Close for Comfort: Contentious Issues in Human-Wildlife Encounters.' (Eds D Lunney, A Munn and W Meikle) pp. 65-72. (Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Mosman, NSW, Australia)
- Lilith M., Calver M., Garkaklis M. (2010) Do cat restrictions lead to increased species diversity or abundance of small and medium-sized mammals in remnant urban bushland? Pacific Conservation Biology 16(3).
- Somers M.J., Hayward M. (2012) 'Fencing for Conservation ' (Springer: New York, United States of America)