Own a cat? Researchers want help to stem hunting


Ke Vin

Cat bib researchers want the public’s help in collar trial. Picture by: Ke Vin on Unsplash

A lightweight flap of wetsuit strapped around a cat’s collar is hoped to stem attacks on native animals by our furry feline friends.

Murdoch University researchers are calling for the public’s help to study the effectiveness of the ‘cat bib’, which hinders pouncing but still allows the animals to run, jump, climb, groom, feed and snooze as normal.

“Pet cats have about 15 per cent of the impact on wildlife that feral cats do,” Murdoch University veterinarian Dr Fiona Scarff says.

Dr Scarff says the team are now looking for people in Fremantle to take part in the trial.

Cats naturally hunt prey and target native species picking on birds foraging and nesting close to the ground, small mammals – like quendas – and reptiles.

Murdoch University biological scientist Professor Michael Calvers says research shows that pounce protecters stop cats from catching their prey.

“Both pet cats and feral cats may hunt wildlife, spread disease to wildlife, and disrupt wildlife behaviour when animals seek to avoid cats,” Prof Calver says.

“The problems are on-going.”

While some continue to debate if the bright colour of the bib warns prey about impending danger or its the intrusion on the cats hunting ability that works to stop  attacks before before they happen.

Dr Scarff says it’s the latter.

“We ran a study where we compared plain coloured bibs to brightly coloured ones and we didn’t find any difference between them,” Dr Scarff says.

The research unit has been involved in studies of cats and their foraging behaviour for over three decades. They have explored topics such as what cats eat, how far they roam and their impact on wildlife.

They are  now looking at changing the size of the bibs to further test the nature of the bibs effect on the cat’s ability to pounce.

Prof Calver suggests a number of alternative predation deterrents such as, alarms, brightly coloured collar covers and bells could be used to stop hunting.

“There is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ with these options,” Prof Calver says.

“It is up to owners to choose what works best from them and their cats.”

Dr Scarff is currently looking for new research participants and is  enrolling people who “own cats, love their cats, but are worried about the impact of their cats on local wildlife” .

WA environmental minister Stephen Dawson did not respond to questions on the issue.

If you know someone who might be interested, ask them to sign up at [email protected].