Conservationists collect 200 DNA samples from feral cats in Dryandra Woodland to protect threatened species
Conservationists have sent 200 feral cat DNA samples for genetic analysis in a bid to improve protection of threatened species, including numbats and chuditch in the Dryandra Woodland National Park.
The Peel-Harvey Catchment Council, in collaboration with other conservation groups, has sent the samples to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ Conservation Science Centre laboratory.
The results from the DNA study are expected to give an insight into the sources, relationships and hotspots of feral cats to help improve management practices.
PHCC secured $221,000 in funding through the Federal Government’s Environment Restoration Fund to run its Dryandra Woonta (Noongar for “shield”) project as an extension of pre-existing conservation work.
The project involves PHCC working with landholders and Noongar Wilman people to protect native species by improving their understanding and management of feral predators, including feral cats, foxes and pigs.
“Over the past few years, 200 DNA samples have been taken from feral cats humanely and professionally culled through PHCC’s Numbat Neighbourhood project and through the DBCA control programs in and surrounding Dryandra,” PHCC program manager Karen Bettink said.
“Ear tissue samples were collected, stored and recently sent to DBCA’s Conservation Science Centre laboratory and from there, the DNA is extracted from each sample and sequenced.
“The results from the DNA study will tell us about the relationships between cats in Dryandra that will help improve management to protect native animals, particularly these threatened species.
“By knowing how cats are related and where, we can know where the sources and hotspots are so efforts can be directed to those areas for best outcomes.”
In 2014, it was estimated that just 50 numbats were roaming Dryandra, but now there are more than 500 individuals, according to the Numbat Task Force.
Despite the flourishing local populations, numbats and chuditch are listed as a priority species — an animal of management concern in a wildlife reserve — in the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Action Plan 2022-2032.
“Numbats and chuditch are unique, culturally important native animals that if you’re lucky enough can be spotted within one of the jewels of the Wheatbelt— the Dryandra Woodland National Park,” Ms Bettink said.
“Both species though are at risk of extinction from threats such as habitat loss and predation from feral cats and foxes.”
Ms Bettink said feral cats had a “huge impact” on native fauna.
“Since being introduced, cats have spread to every habitat in Australia,” she said.
“There are now between 1.4 and 5.6 million feral cats in Australian, consuming 466 million reptiles, 256 million birds and 815 million mammals every year. Feral cat as well as fox predation has caused reductions in population and extent of many native animals, including the numbat from most of their natural range.’’
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