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Felixers: a tool to help save Alwal?

Published 06 Aug 2019 by Allana Brown and Terry Mahney

Olkola and Bush Heritage may have a new tool in our battle to protect the endangered Golden-shouldered Parrot from feral cats. Known as Alwal to the Olkola people, this beautiful and culturally significant totem species has suffered significant declines in recent decades and is now restricted to two small populations on Cape York – the largest is on Olkola managed lands.

Olkola and Bush Heritage have been working in partnership since 2015 to better understand the threats to Alwal and to reverse their declines.

During 2016 camera trap monitoring of Alwal nests we were devastated to discover images of a feral cat taking nestlings.

Realising that this was a newly recognised threat and we urgently began to investigate the occurrence of feral cats across Alwal habitat and trial potential control methods.

Unfortunately research showed feral cats were common and widespread across Olkola lands, posing a serious threat to Alwal and other native wildlife.

We're currently investigating the suitability of Felixer traps as a potential method of controlling feral cats across Alwal habitat. Relying on a cat's habit of cleanliness, the Felixer firstly uses photo imagery to identify its target as a feral cat and then sprays a lethal dosage of toxin, which cats will ingest after licking themselves clean.

Together we set up five Felixer traps on Olkola country to trial their ability to identify and target feral cats.

Locations were chosen based on evidence of cat tracks and landscape features that might funnel passing cats through the line of view.

On retrieving the traps after six weeks the results were very encouraging. They clearly show the Felixer could successfully target feral cats and were effective in all the habitat areas we trialed them. At least five different cats were photographed (as shown) and would have been sprayed with toxin had the Felixers been activated (as this was a trial, we used ‘photo only’ mode).

As with every new technology there are still some faults to be ironed out. In total the Felixers captured images of at least 16 other species (including bandicoots, owls, curlews, hare-wallabies and possums), which it was successfully able to identify as non-target species and would not have sprayed. However, five images of dingoes where mis-identified as targets.

Dingos are a keystone species for the northern savannas and very culturally significant for Olkola. Although the impacts of the toxin on dingoes would unlikely to be lethal, we have upgraded our Felixers with new software and are currently running another trial using revised deployment methods.

Olkola and Bush Heritage remain confident that the Felixers will prove to be an effective tool for helping control feral cats.

We hope that after the trial currently underway we'll be able to deploy the Felixers on an ongoing basis to enhance the survival prospects of Alwal and other endangered Australian wildlife.

The Bringing Alwal Home project is kindly supported by the Scully Fund. The 2018 trial of the Felixers on Olkola Country was kindly supported by the Qld Government, Everyone’s Environment Grant Program.

Bush Heritage and Olkola rangers caught the first evidence of feral cats preying on Alwal nestlings with our monitoring cameras in 2016. Bush Heritage and Olkola rangers caught the first evidence of feral cats preying on Alwal nestlings with our monitoring cameras in 2016.
The Felixer cat trap. The Felixer cat trap.
Here are some of the images of feral cats recorded  as’ Targets’ by the Felixers on Olkola Country during our first trial. Here are some of the images of feral cats recorded as’ Targets’ by the Felixers on Olkola Country during our first trial.
Bush Heritage Senior Ecologist Dr Alex Kutt, with Olkola Rangers Ashaley Ross and Joseph Mathieson setting up a Felixer. Bush Heritage Senior Ecologist Dr Alex Kutt, with Olkola Rangers Ashaley Ross and Joseph Mathieson setting up a Felixer.
Obvious pathways in the landscape, such as this internal road where cat tracks were seen in the sand, proved to be a fruitful location to set up a Felixer. Obvious pathways in the landscape, such as this internal road where cat tracks were seen in the sand, proved to be a fruitful location to set up a Felixer.

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