Labor says more resources needed to meet feral cat eradication target on Kangaroo Island

FERAL THREAT: Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary co-owner Jim Geddes speaks to SA Labor senator Marielle Smith about the impact of feral animals when the threatened species hearing was held on Kangaroo Island in September. Photo supplied
FERAL THREAT: Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary co-owner Jim Geddes speaks to SA Labor senator Marielle Smith about the impact of feral animals when the threatened species hearing was held on Kangaroo Island in September. Photo supplied

Questioning in Senate estimates has confirmed the federal government will not meet its 2020 target to eradicate feral cats on Kangaroo Island, leaving native species vulnerable.

The 2020 target is obviously totally unrealistic given local experts on KI have said it could take up to 50 years to eradicate cats on the Island given the current resourcing.

SA Labor senator Marielle Smith, who visited the Island in September for senate hearing into threatened species, said the federal government had failed to provide specific, targeted funding in the October Budget to eradicate feral cats on KI.

Ms Smith said threatened species commissioner Dr Sally Box has said; "The target in the existing strategy is actually to eradicate feral cats from Kangaroo Island by 2020. Obviously, it's quite a complex job and that will take a significant amount of time..."

In Senate estimates on October 19, Ms Smith's questioning of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment revealed that the Federal Government's target for eradication of feral cats on Kangaroo Island by 2020 clearly cannot be met.

"Despite the growing evidence of the threat feral cats present on Kangaroo Island, which has been amplified by the summer bushfires, the federal Liberal government has completely failed to provide specific, targeted funding in the October Budget to eradicate feral cats on the Island," Ms Smith said.

She said feral cat predation was a major threat to biodiversity conservation on Kangaroo Island putting at risk over 50 native animal species, including the endangered KI dunnart, KI echidna, southern brown bandicoot and vulnerable hooded plover.

Ms Smith said it was of grave concern no additional funds had been allocated to meet the target.

"Feral cats on Kangaroo Island are detrimental to the native species on the island and yet we have a Liberal government who has been sitting on its hands in relation to their own target," Senator Smith said.

"After an absolutely horrific fire season with native animals on the island already in vulnerable conditions and the government falling way behind in meeting its own target, it beggars belief that no new money has been specifically allocated in the government's budget to further assist the eradication of the feral cats on Kangaroo Island."

"It is important now, more than ever, that the federal government start taking the eradication of feral cats on Kangaroo Island seriously, to not only protect the unique biodiversity of the island but to also assist struggling farmers protect their livestock."

KI Feral Cat Eradication Project leader James Smith said good progress was being made on the project by the KI Landscape Board.

"We're making good progress in eradicating feral cats on the eastern end of the Dudley Peninsula and learning a lot about what does and doesn't work on KI," Mr Smith said.

"We're creating a solid eradication 'front' and developing new tools as we progress. To keep this momentum going and extend the eradication effort, further funding is definitely needed."

KI VISIT: SA Labor senator Marielle Smith at Hanson Bay before the threatened species hearing on Kangaroo Island. Photo supplied

KI VISIT: SA Labor senator Marielle Smith at Hanson Bay before the threatened species hearing on Kangaroo Island. Photo supplied

Senate hearing on KI

At a Senate hearing into threatened species held on Kangaroo Island on September 29, the committee heard evidence that it could take up to 50 years to see an eradication of feral cats on Kangaroo Island.

Ms Smith said experts including environmental physiologist Dr Peggy Rismiller told the committee a 50-year time frame was more realistic.

"When we are looking at a reasonable time frame, we'd have to say 50 years. I'm saying that because of the time that it's taking on the east end of the island, where they are progressing in a methodical way and finding out how long it takes to cover a certain area and the resources that it takes to cover that area," Ms Rismiller told the committee at the hearing.

"With the current resources and timing, I'm hoping that by 2030 we will have the Dudley Peninsula totally clear and perhaps have started on the next issue.

"But I think, practically, we have to look at 50 years for the size of this island compared to other islands where cats have been eradicated."

Ms Smith said evidence at the hearing also demonstrated the impact of the feral cats on the agricultural industry, including from Agriculture KI president Rick Morris.

"Not only from an ecological point of view but from an industry one. I'm not sure if you're aware that feral cats are a host of toxoplasmosis, which is a lamb-aborting disease," Mr Morris told the committee.

"It costs our industry thousands of dollars every year having feral cats within the landscape."

Ms Smith said further evidence from the committee hearing on KI demonstrated that extra federal government funding and resources could assist in meeting the eradication deadline.

She asked Ms Rismiller if a 2030 eradication target could be met if there were greater financial resources and investment on the ground.

Dr Rismiller answered; "Yes, I believe so. There are always new tools coming into the tool basket for cat eradication.

Fauna ecologist Pat Hodgens from Terrain-Ecology/Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife also called for more resources.

"More boots on the ground and more funding. It would need a huge amount of effort and a huge amount of funding-just throwing everything at it, essentially," he told the committee.

"I think the project has been developed in a wise way. You start on a smaller area, learn from it, and then apply those techniques across the larger area.

"But, yes, it comes down to resourcing really, having enough funding to do it, and all the techniques that you can use freely."

Federal member comments

Federal Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie has acknowledged eradication was complex but work was progressing.

"Anyone who has spent time on the Island and spent time with the local community working on this important program, as I have done, will understand just how complex this issue is. There is no quick fix," Ms Sharkie said.

"The community is working incredibly hard. I have helped to advocate for the funding they have received and I will continue to advocate for the many millions they will need in the future.

"Eradicating feral cats on the Island is going to be a marathon. It is going to need a sustained investment over the long term. I remain confident that government will recognise the importance of continuing the program to its conclusion.

"If senator Smith would like to know about the amazing work the community is doing to make the eradication of feral cats a reality, she is more than welcome to talk to the local Federal member for Mayo."

This story Labor says more resources needed to meet feral cat eradication target on KI first appeared on The Islander.

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