Feral cats hunting Leadbeater’s possums as they leave nest boxes

By AG Staff 26 July 2018
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Camera footage captured attempts by feral cats to ambush the possum.

FERAL CATS have been spotted waiting outside of nest boxes frequented by the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri).

Remote-sensing cameras set up in Victoria’s Central Highlands by ecologists from the University of Melbourne captured footage of cats stationing themselves outside of the nest boxes and attempting to catch the possums as they left.

Prior to this recent incident, researchers say that feral cats weren’t considered a huge threat to the possum because they spend most of the night feeding in the canopy, making them difficult to catch.

“Photos documented the cat visiting two nest boxes occupied by one possum colony over a period of 20 days. The cameras captured a dramatic, yet unsuccessful swipe by the cat as a possum emerges from the nest box at dusk.,” said lead author Leo McComb.

However, after viewing the footage, the stomach contents of seven feral cats analysed, of which two contained evidence of Leadbeater’s possum.

“The diet analysis confirms that feral cats do capture Leadbeater’s possums, but it remains uncertain where and how this occurs.

“We didn’t find any evidence of feral cats at the other 45 nest boxes monitored with cameras over winter, and no cats were detected at 63 nest boxes monitored over summer,” said co-supervisor Natalie Briscoe.

Populations of the possum have steadily declined due to habitat loss, bushfires and timber harvesting, making the nest boxes a vital alternative. However, scientists are concerned they may be putting the possum at risk.

“At some locations, nest boxes have been a valuable tool for providing additional denning opportunities for Leadbeater’s possums living in forests where there is a shortage of natural hollows,” said co-supervisor from Zoos Victoria Dan Harley.

“We don’t know whether nest boxes elevate predation risk but it is worth considering measures that minimise this possibility, such as modifying the design of the box lid or potentially placing collars at the base of trees.”

The researchers will continue to monitor the nest box sites and analyse the stomach contents of feral cats from the area.