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GPS collar tracking to shed light on feral behaviour

Targeting pest control together with tracking is helping to gain a better understanding of interactions of feral animals threatening turtles on the Ningaloo Coast.

The work is being undertaken on Gnaraloo Station in the Gascoyne region, which is home to two key sea turtle rookeries within the broader Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area (WHA).

Southern Rangelands Program Manager, Kieran Massie said Rangelands NRM has been supporting targeted pest control work at Gnaraloo Station since 2013, through funding from the National Landcare Program.

“Since this time, the Gnaraloo Feral Animal Control Program (GFACP) has drastically reduced and maintained minimal predation rates on turtle rookeries,” he said.

The turtle rookeries at Gnaraloo—namely the Gnaraloo Bay Rookery and Gnaraloo Cape Farquhar Rookery—are of major national importance under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Kieran said.

“They represent the largest mainland nesting rookeries of Loggerhead sea turtles in WA and are vulnerable to predation by European red foxes, feral cats and wild dogs.”

Rangelands NRM is supporting a project with Animal Pest Management Services and Gnaraloo Wilderness Foundation, to culminate work undertaken between 2013 and 2017 on Gnaraloo Station, and build the foundations for a more regional and holistic approach to feral control along the entire Ningaloo Coast for the future.

Project activities will continue the control of European foxes, feral cats and wild dogs on Gnaraloo Station, providing protection for the nationally significant sea turtle rookeries and improving threatened species habitat.

Wild dogs have increased over the years and while all wild dogs are removed on a regular basis, they continue to invade the space once those who take up residence are removed.

The work will combine targeted pest control with trapping and tracking of feral cats.

Mike Butcher of Animal Pest Management Services said evidence of an increase in feral cat activity on the beaches has caused concern.

“The baiting programs on foxes and wild dogs was considered an ideal opportunity to determine whether the use of poison baits for the control of these species may also control feral cats,” he said.

GPS collars will be fitted on five cats, to gain a better understanding of interactions between the feral predators.

“We elected to fit collars to feral cats to determine if any of the 1080 baits currently used on foxes or wild dogs would reduce feral cat numbers,” Mike said.

“Cats have been seen to take fresh meat baits laid for foxes through the use of camera traps.”

“As food resources for feral cats are lower in winter, the timing of the baiting is being adjusted to include baiting mid-winter.”

He said the work is still ongoing with the collaring of cats and baiting, while monitoring numbers of feral cats is also undertaken by spotlight counts and sand plots through the winter months.

This work will also contribute to a broader understanding of the impact that targeted control of wild dogs and foxes has on feral cat populations across the Ningaloo WHA and the broader Gascoyne region.

Image: GPS collars will be fitted on five cats, to gain a better understanding of interactions between the feral predators. (Mike Butcher)