Tuesday 30 November 2021

Feral cat eats a small Australian native mammal and is poisoned by a PPI

The Aussies have created another novel way of killing feral cats. They spend many thousands of hours dreaming up new ways and this is the latest. They inject into a native small mammal such as a bilby, a rice-sized implant. They call them population protecting implants or PPIs. They are placed under the skin of the animal. These small mammals are dinner-sized creatures for the feral cats of the Australian continent.

Note: this is me reporting and commenting on the news. Journos call them op-eds.

Bilby - Credit UniSA
Bilby - Credit: UniSA.

When inside the prey animal nothing happens. The pellet is covered by a protective coating. It contains a toxin derived from a natural poison in native plants. PPIs are harmless to tolerant native mammals they say.

However, once the mammal is eaten by a feral cat they become a deadly toxin as the implant is activated in the predator's stomach. They don't tell me how that transformation from a passive object under the skin becomes a deadly poison in a cat's stomach. I guess it must be the stomach acid of the feral cat which breaks down the coating.

Neither am I told whether the poisoned cat dies an agonising death or quietly. I'll presume it is the former but who cares 😕.

Thought: when my cat eats a mouse he leaves the gall bladder as it contains bile. Will feral cats learn to leave behind the PPI when they eat the bilby? They might. If so the project would be an expensive washout.

The technology has been developed by the University of South Australia. The objective: to curb feral cat predatory behaviour. It is the small ground dwelling mammals who are most at threat and it seems to me which most concern Australia's conservationists. It seems that the ulterior or higher objective is to teach feral cats that these small mammals are poisonous and therefore to be avoided.

Feral cat Australia
Feral cat Australia. Photo: Pixabay.

Two other native species in this bracket are the bettong and quoll. They've been forced to think about alternative methods of controlling feral cats because current schemes to remove them from the landscape have had limited success. This is despite throwing frozen sausages containing 1080 poison from helicopters. This particular poison causes a painful death. That doesn't concern the scientists of Australia.

The University has collaborated with researchers from local ecology groups, Ecological Horizons and Peacock Biosciences and the University of Adelaide.

At present 30 bilbies have been implanted with PPIs at the Arid Recovery. This is a 123 km² wildlife reserve in the north of South Australia. This is a trial. The results will hopefully prove the effectiveness of this technology.

Comment: it seems to me that they have to trap these small mammals to implant the PPI. That is going to take a lot of effort and money. Will the reward i.e. the killing of a single feral cat each time be commensurate with the financial and manpower cost? My prediction is that this is cost ineffective and it is a project that will fizzle out. Unless feral cats, as mentioned, learn that these mammals are poisonous and avoid them. That would be a major success but it will take a long time.

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