Background: Feral Cats in Australia
Feral cats are cats that can survive without human contact, they have evolved to live, hunt and breed in the wild. They have evolved to have capabilities to stalk and hunt prey allowing them to adapt to Australia’s harsh climate invading 99.8% of Australia. Data on feral cat numbers are difficult to collect, but total population estimates for Australia range from two million to six million. They are found in all sorts of environments including the deserts, forests, woodlands and grasslands.
Feral cats are an extreme problem in Australia threatening the native wildlife, it is the single biggest threat to native species. As Australia is home to endemic rodents and marsupials and lacks the large placental carnivores found on other large continents, feral cats are taking over the ecosystem. They are carnivores they need a large amount of meat to survive and prefer live prey and they can kill animals their same size, however, mainly eat small native and exotic mammals, birds, lizards and insects. Around 80 endangered and threatened species are at risk from feral cat predation in Australia. Each feral cats kill up to 1000 native animals a year, that’s 3-20 animals each week that are killed. Threatening 81 vulnerable and endangered native animals – 35 bird species; 36 mammal species; 7 reptile species; and 3 amphibian species.
They were introduced in the 17th century, when settlers came to Australia they brought in cats as pets. But by the 1800’s they intentionally introduced them to hunt rabbits and rodents around farmlands, by the 1850’s feral cats had made colonies in the wild.
Connection to Aboriginals
Feral cats have no connection with aboriginals or their land and therefore are not important in Australia as they are destroying the natural ecosystem. They need to be completely eradicated from Australia in order to restore the natural system and to stop the Aboriginal culture from being affected in the future.
Native animals are culturally important to aboriginals as they have a connection to people and to the land, They want native species to maintain so cultural knowledge can be passed on to younger generations. Native animals are totems of some tribes and so are important to protect. The older generations say it is important for the younger generations to see and know these creatures.
Some aboriginal tribes have been trying to combat the feral cat issue, such as the Pintupi people of the Gibson Desert, who have been hunting feral cats for food since the alien species arrived 100 years ago and to protect their land which is now UNESCO heritage site.
Artist Response: Feral
Feral is an artwork depicting the story of feral cats and the impact they have on Australia’s native animals and on the indigenous Australians. A range of Aboriginal painting styles from different regions of Australia is used as feral cats impact all parts of Australia. The figure of a feral cat is portrayed as a ‘god’, the almighty figure dominating and ruling the ecosystem inspired by the Aboriginal Wondjinas. Surrounded lay the bodies of endemic Australian animals hunted by feral cats. The aboriginal symbol for meeting place contains the cat and the animals symbolising the connection of the commonplace for death with native animals and the mutual problem all aboriginal tribes have with the land. The symbol for short journey is leading into the cats depicting the feral cat cutting the animals lives short driving them to extinction. The background image of Feral is a depiction of Australia back in the 17th century during European settlement where the ships arrived and introduced the cats resulting in feral cats.
Meeting place – The meeting place of native animals and feral casts leads to a short journey
Short journey – cats cutting the animal life short
The cat is inspired by the Wondjina – they created every living creature and is a play on how the feral cats are doing the opposite
5 species under threat :
– Numbat – there are less than 1000 left
– Central rock rat – also the same with 1000 remaining
– Night parrot – thought to be extinct but was rediscovered
– Mountain pygmy possum – less than 2000 left
– Eastern barred bandicoot – only found in 3 predator-free areas
A painting of the ships harbouring Australia in the 17th century when cats were brought over from Europe and were released to control rodent and rabbits but instead became feral cats.
Integrating two cultures into the image reflects on how not only is it a problem for the Aboriginals but also other Australians as it threatens native Australian animals
Not many artists responding to feral cats, however, I found a couple of images online on illustrators trying to create an impact. I took most of my inspiration from Kaye Kessing’s posters, different styles of Aboriginal art and 18th-century landscape paintings.
Brandon L. Parsons, “WONDJINA”, MrPsMythopedia, TES, 2017, web, Nov 2017.
Central Art Aboriginal Art Store, “Meeting Place”, Aboriginal Art Store, AAS, 2017, web, Nov 2017.
Northern Australia Hub, “Feral Cat Management On Indigenous Lands”, Northern Australia Environmental Research Portal, Charles Darwin University, 2015, web, Nov 2017
Australian Government, “The Feral Cat (Felis Catus)”, environment.gov.au, Commonwealth of Australia, 2011, web, Nov 2017.
Eric Nyquist, “Illustrations”, Eric Nyquist, Jigisha Bouverat Collective, web, Nov 2017.
“Michael Byers | Wins 2nd Place For Excellence In Illustration For Hawaii Publishers Association Awards”, Levy Creative Management. Web, Nov 2017.
Kaye Kessing, “Kaye Kessing’s Posters”, Kaye Kessing, 2017, web, Nov 2017.
Geoff Vivian, “Desert cat hunters cut wildlife protection costs” phys.org, Science X network, 2013, Web, Nov 2017.
John Woinarski, Brett Murphy, Leigh-Ann Woolley, Sarah Legge, Stephen Garnett and Tim Doherty, “Cats kill more than 1 million birds in Australia every day, new estimates show”, abc News, 2017, web, Nov 2017.