Mapping cats at Boolcoomatta

By Emily Mathews 
on 27 Apr 2017 

Hi! I’m Emily and I'm a science intern here at Boolcoomatta Reserve in the arid rangelands of South Australia. My primary focus over the next two months is to collect data on the distribution of feral cats here.

Feral cats are arguably Australia’s most devastating introduced species. They've been linked to the decline and extinction of many birds, reptiles and small mammals.

Here at Boolcoomatta our main objective is to estimate how many cats occur on the reserve and in which land systems, so different management strategies can be implemented that target areas of higher abundance.

With wonderful help from volunteers Tony and Meredith Geyer, we spent 3 days installing 60 motion sensor cameras across four different land systems. Study sites were selected by Ecologist Sandy Gilmore, with a total of 15 cameras per land system.

The four land systems included are the open plains, sandy rises, creek/flood plains and rocky outcrops. The process involved installing all the infra-red motion sensor cameras facing south.

A lure station containing KFC chicken was placed 3m directly in front of each camera. Each piece of chicken was sprayed with an ant-deterring agent that will be replaced every 15 days. All 60 cameras will be out for a total of 45 days. After that, all the images will be analysed and recorded. The data from this study will be used to implement different management strategies across the reserve. 

Meanwhile, other efforts on the property have allowed us to analyse feral cat stomach contents. In one cat alone we found a dragon, a snake and a rodent! This sample along with many others will be sent off for scientific analysis.

Species such as the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale xanthopus xanthopus) and the Plains-wander (Pedionomus torquatus) occur on Boolcoomatta – both are may be under threat due to feral cats, underlining the importance of this work.