Published: 5 Jun 2015
From NT News, Elke Wiesmann, 8 April 2015.
When it comes to taking out feral cats the tracking skills of the Central Land Council rangers win hands down over less traditional methods.
Expert trackers like CLC ranger Christine Michaels from Nyirrpi are much better at catching feral cats than modern cat traps.
Tracking also beats poison bait, which can kill the cats’ main enemy, the dingo.
Christine and scientist Rachel Paltridge from Desert Wildlife Services told the Territory Natural Resource Management Conference late last year that a research program at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary near Nyirrpi has shown that tracking feral cats is far more effective than baiting and trapping.
Scientists estimate that, right around the country, feral cats kill 75 million native animals every single night.
Newhaven, a former cattle station 350km northwest of Alice Springs, has one of the largest populations of the threatened Great Desert Skink. The skinks are nocturnal reptiles about the size of blue tongue lizards which live in networks of burrows.
Newhaven also has a healthy population of dingoes and practises good fire management.
Scientists and rangers working on the Newhaven program found that while dingoes occasionally eat the endangered skinks they also have a huge appetite for feral cats.
So now the program makes sure the dingoes are not harmed.
Targeting cats and foxes without harming dingoes is difficult but Ms Michaels and her mum Alice have shown that it can be done.
They track in the middle of the day when the cats shelter from the heat.
It takes them between two to three hours to wear out their prey but they catch a lot more cats than with traps.
“When we find tracks we follow them and when the cat sees us it runs away,” Ms Michaels said. “We keep going in the heat and find the pussy cat hiding in the spinifex.
“When it runs away again, we follow it until it gets tired, then we hit it with a crowbar.”
Ms Michaels’ skills are in high demand.