In the October 2012 edition of Blue’s Country Magazine (now defunct), Col Jackson wrote of his astonishment at the plague of feral cats out west, set against the untamed politics of the environmentalists.
THERE’S A DITTY that goes to the tune of John Peel that spins: “cats on the rooftops, cats on the tiles…”
Well, out Julia Creek way, the cats are everywhere — feral cats — and they’re in the thousands. No, millions.
And as the tune goes, they’re not only carrying diseases, with the potential to spread locally-based epidemics further field — they are killing an estimated 100,000 million wildlife species every night.
Yes, every night!
Recently I drove from Mt Isa to Julia Creek, and at $5 for every feral cat that I saw, plus armed with a small bore rifle or shotgun, I could have earned a good day’s wages.
A local landholder and his wife had invited me to their property to gain the full picture. He lined-up a dozen or so carcasses on the front fence of his property to demonstrate, in stark reality, what the feral cat problem has become.
It’s an even more stark realisation that something needs to be done rather than just trying to trap these feral animals that can grow to twice the size of the average domestic cat.
Back in the township, I spoke to the man whose job it is to try and rid this vast black soil plain of what can only become an environmental and economical disaster.
Just a few months previous, a 25-million dollar project to expand the Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach came to a standstill because of its “potential” as a breeding ground for the Julia Creek Dunnart, a small but prolific-breeding marsupial that is only endangered because of feral cats.
It’s blatant bigotry that so-called environmentalists can stall or stop a massive project with the potential to bring tourist dollars to a community’s economy while revering the outback — whether for ethical or political reasons — is obscene and definitely wrong.
The Julia Creek Dunnart breeds like the proverbial rabbit, and is only “endangered” by feral cats that are free to roam and kill at will.
East of Julia Creek is Duncan and Judy Fysh’s property “Proa,” named after the Malaysian seagoing canoes that littered the coastline when Matthew Flinders circumnavigated the coastline hundreds of years ago.
The property reeks of history. Photos and paintings of the earliest aircraft cover the walls. Duncan refers to “Uncle Hudson,” the founder of Qantas. Board members included his godfather, Fergus McMaster, and relation Ginty McGinnness.
Huge ponds on the property are filled with North Queensland crayfish, a native of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Judy slides a plate of freshly cooked “red claw” onto the table. They are delicious.
“The flavour is better because they are bred in artesian bore water,” Duncan tells.
That’s just the preliminaries. Now to the real issue: feral cats — and Duncan is in full flight (spare the analogy).
“The government admits to 18-million feral cats, and they eat between four and six native animals/birds each night.
“That can be up to 100,000 million per night,” he says emphatically. “The environment can’t handle it.
“These cats can live in the desert without water because they get enough moisture out of what they eat on a daily basis.”
Proa is a 17,000 acre sheep and cattle property, and Duncan says he captured 460 cats in one bore drain over two days.
“Those were the days when we could get $16 per tail; now it’s down to $5 each because there are so many of them,” he says. “The Council couldn’t afford to keep paying out that sort of money.”
Back in the township, Reg Sollitt is the McKinlay Shire Council’s animal control officer.
Each evening he sets traps, and the next morning collects the feral cats and disposes of them.
Cat lovers would no doubt be squirming over this comment, but it’s either the ferals or the native birds and small animals that are defenceless against these marauding monsters.
Reg generally has an offsider to help him; there is no wage, but payment is in tails. Eighty tails at $5 each is a fair night’s work.
He says that the lowest daily count over a full week was 58 feral cats.
Reg was born in the bush (Guthalungra, between Home Hill and Bowen), and says he has never encountered such a problem in his entire lifetime.
He has captured up to 50 each night inside the specially-constructed Dunnart fence.
“They got into the Bilby sanctuary — and wiped-out the lot,” he says.
“On some days there can be 50 inside the Dunnart sanctuary, and 50 outside wanting to get in.”
The feral cats have perhaps one redeeming feature. In a recent rat plague, the rats were gone in an eight month period.
Reg says the cats grow to between eight and ten kilograms, whereas the domestic cat will average four to five.
Till recently he was capturing adult cats, but in an indication that the cats are also prolific breeders, in the space of a week, 70 per cent were young cats less than 12 months old.
He analyses further: For three weeks the captured cats were 90 per cent male. In the following two weeks, this has transferred to 70 to 80 per cent females.
Kangaroo shooters are also making a “killing.” One shooter brought-in 319 cat tails ($5 each), plus they get $7 for wild dog scalps.
Reg says the feral cats are potential killing machines, and they’re eating the environment.
“They’re too fat to be hungry; they’re better fed than the domestic variety.”
He justifies this comment by analysing the stomach contents to ascertain what they have been eating.
“Throughout my lifetime, I have never had to ask for help for anything,” says Reg. “I been trapping for 50 years, but I reckon I’m losing the battle.”
And he despairs: “All the small native birds are gone.”
The phone rings. Reg has an offsider for the night — and he can have the tails.
Without dedicated people like Reg Sollitt, there is the potential for feral cats to proliferate into many more millions.
The traps he uses have a rubber lining; they do not harm the cats in any way, yet holds them in a strong grip.
- Reg Sollitt is now retired and still lives in Julia Creek.