Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Abundance and Home Ranges of Feral Cats in a South African Urban Conservancy

Feral cats present a significant threat to wildlife. Not only have they successfully adapted to nearly as many environments as humans, but they are generalist predators that will change preferred prey according to availability, allowing them to maintain populations even when prey becomes scarce.

In rural areas, feral cat home ranges are usually fairly large and only overlap with the home ranges of relatives. In urban areas, however, home ranges usually small and dense and often overlap with non-relatives. Being an urban conservancy, the Howard College Campus (HCC) of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa acts as a combination of a rural and an urban area. As it also hosts a cat colony that is semi-managed at ten feeding stations, Jaclyn Tennent and Colleen Downs opted to study the feral cats there.

To evaluate the abundance and ranges of the feral cats at HCC, Tennent and Downs divided the campus into four study areas, including the Msinsi Reserve (Area C), based on the local ecosystems and observed the cats along tracts in each, as shown below.

With a average colony density estimated of 40 cats per square kilometer, Areas A, B, and D each had significantly different cat population densities, ranging from an estimated 66.9  to 2.2 cats per sq. km, while no cats were observed in the Msinsi Reserve. The home ranges were also determined for six cats, half male and half female. The core ranges were found to be small and non-overlapping and the outer ranges were found to mostly be within the developed areas of campus, as seen below.

The study shows that within environment of this colony steady food supply correlates to density and home ranges of feral cats. Along with support from other studies, the data demonstrates that steady supplemental food supply not only is an effective population management method with only ad hoc sterilization of cats but also is a means of increasing feral cat welfare, as colony cats tend to have greater longevity and reduced territoriality, which leads to a decrease in cat fights.

Tennent, J., & Downs, C. T. (2008). Abundance and home ranges of feral cats in an urban conservancy where there is supplemental feeding: a case study from South Africa. African Zoology43(2), 218-229.

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