On the remote West Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Indigenous rangers say after years of hard work, there is now just one feral cat left on the island.
An eradication program by the local Li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers has used old and new technologies to eradicate the feral felines, with great success.
While 1080 baits had been the main weapon since the project started in 2011, some cats wised up to the poisonous baits, which led rangers to try other methods to mop up the island’s last few cats.
Desert Wildlife Services ecologist Rachel Paltridge said the island had been permitted to use a new technology dubbed Felixer, which is the first time it had been used in the Northern Territory.
“Our newest weapon is the Felixer Grooming Traps, which is a really high-tech machine that uses a series of lasers to identify cats from other species,” she said.
“How it works, if a cat walks past the machine it’ll spray out a dose of poison as a gel, and then the cat as a compulsory groomer will run off, sit down under a tree, lick itself to clean itself, and it will get poisoned that way.
“So it’s great because it’s not dependent on the cat being hungry enough to eat a bait, and we think we just got our first cat kill with this trap recently.”
Legendary cat tracker invited to help
Traditional owners have also this year enlisted the help of legendary cat tracker Christine Ellis from the Nyirripi community in the Tanami Desert.
“She is a legend and I liked working with her,” West Island traditional owner Lynette Simon said.
“She could find a track while on the quad bike. She was great.”
Ms Simon said since the arrival of cats in the 1990s, the feral animals had devastated populations of native wildlife on the island, but the end was now in sight.
“There’s only one [cat left] and we’ve seen him,” she said.
“We’ll hopefully get him next year and [when that happens] I’ll be so happy and proud.
“To see our animals, the delicate mouses and [grassland] melomys, they’ll be running around happy and it’ll be back [to normal].”
The Li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers and Desert Wildlife Services recently won the Best Collaboration in Natural Resource Management Award at the Territory NRM Awards in Darwin.