Anyone with a bird feeder has experienced that sinking feeling of discovering a patch of stray feathers or a tuft of bunny fur. There's a good chance a cat has been hunting there.
To learn more about the behaviors of feral cats, researchers from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) outfitted more than 65 feral cats with modified GoPro cameras and GPS collars to track the felines' daily movements. There are likely about 4 million feral cats in Australia, and those feral cats kill millions of native animals every night.
In what has been called a "war on cats," Australia's federal government has a five-year threatened species strategy that includes plans to eliminate 2 million feral cats by 2020. Domestic cats were introduced to the continent more than 200 years ago as pets, but many have gone wild and are dining on threatened native species.
The AWC's goal is to reduce the impact of those cats on native animal populations in Australia, but the research has relevance for any community with feral cats.
“The purpose of the study was to examine the hunting behaviours and distances travelled by feral cats and their impact on small mammals,” said the AWC's Dr. John Kanowski.
The footage showed where the cats went and how they hunted. It showed them killing snakes, frogs and birds. Researchers found that each cat hunted 20 times a day with a 30 percent success rate. That's an average of seven kills per day per cat.
The cats were most successful in open areas, particularly where there had been fires that cleared the area. In those places, 80 percent of hunts were successful. But in uncleared areas, cats were only successful hunting about 20 percent of the time.
An earlier study by researchers at the University of Georgia and National Geographic found that a third of pet cats kill wildlife for an average of about 2.1 times every week. That's a lot, but nowhere near what Australian researchers have uncovered with feral cats in this new study.
"This footage shows domestic cat owners that there is a big difference between domestic and feral cats," said Fleming.
Fleming admits not only was it physically challenging to strap the collars and cameras on to the feral cats, but there was somewhat of a moral dilemma.
"The temptation is to simply remove every cat that you catch, but when there are 4 million cats out there, removing that one cat is not actually going to help native animals," he told HuffPost Australia. "We need to use this research to find a way to remove feral cats from the landscape, or if not that, at least find a way to control them."
Watch the video to see a day in the life of a feral cat: