At Benledi on 24 May, Professor Chris Dickman, Professor in Ecology from the University of Sydney, spoke to 34 members and their friends about the ‘Impacts and local management of cats, dogs and foxes’. Cats have had a devastating effect on Australia’s smallest mouse-like marsupials as many of these animals quickly became extinct soon after European settlers arrived with their pets; these native animals provided a food source that was easily caught by cats.
He described the results of research studies on the predatory habits of cats in the eastern suburbs of Sydney which showed that domestic and stray cats are very efficient hunters of small native fauna and rats, and tend to specialise in a particular species e.g. some will hunt and kill small birds while others are very successful at hunting lizards or rodents.
As well as being part of the family, our pets provide companionship and many other benefits. Some of the discussion considered ways of keeping pets without impacting on our local wildlife and, especially, our diminishing numbers of small birds in Glebe. As a cat owner, what can you do to help prevent your pet eating native fauna? Pet cats are fully domesticated and adjusted to living indoors (with a kitty litter tray) so it is not cruel to keep your pet inside especially overnight and even during the day.
If you allow your cat to spend time in the garden, it has been shown that a collar and bell are ineffective in warning birds that they are being hunted. Recent studies at Murdoch University in Perth have shown that fitting a small brightly coloured vest/bib to cats when they are outdoors stopped over 80% of cats killing wild birds and reduced small animal predation by almost half (see catbib.com.au; the cost of a bib is $16.50 plus postage).
The main impact of dogs on our local wildlife is one of fear. So, if you wish to see a full range of Glebe’s birds as you are walking through our parks don’t take your dog with you – even a leashed dog will cause birds to fly away to a safer area.
Despite the lack of sightings, it would not be a surprise to find that foxes are living in Glebe as they have found safe habitats in parks and golf courses in other inner city regions. As far as their diet is concerned, foxes compete with cats by feeding on rodents and native fauna.
After Professor Dickman’s talk there was time for lots of questions which continued over a glass of wine and sushi – in a subsequent e-mail, Professor Dickman said he enjoyed having the chance of talking to the Society and ‘it was a pleasure to meet such a passionate and well informed group of people!’.