A feral cat-free future for Christmas Island

with Christmas Island invasive species officer Dion Maple

Native animals like Hannibal will be safe to thrive

I just returned from Christmas Island, a remote and captivating place with unique and beautiful ecology. But the uniqueness of its plants and animals also makes them vulnerable to predation and competition from ferals. While the full causes are complex and cryptic, it is clear that invasive species such as cats, yellow crazy ants, rats and centipedes are having an egregious effect on the native wildlife. The science says we can turn this tide back to one that favours plants and animals that belong – the unique boobies, frigate birds, crabs, lizards, owls, and flying fox to name just a few. We have the tools and technologies at hand. And the island has an impressive, dedicated and highly-capable team of park rangers and staff.

Importantly, the island community has decided that enough is enough. Christmas Islanders deserve congratulations for deciding to de-sex all their pet cats and for not allowing any more on the island. This makes feral cat eradication a real possibility. Native animals like ‘Hannibal’, the Christmas Island hawk owl rescued by locals from a vicious feral cat attack, will no longer be victims. They will be safe to thrive.

Park staff are also working hard to reduce feral rat numbers. Community members told me they have already seen increases in red-tailed tropic bird and booby nests as a result. And scientists working in partnership with Parks Australia are close to finalising a safe biological control for the yellow crazy-ants which are wreaking havoc on local species, particularly the iconic red crabs which are critical for the health of the island’s forests.

Christmas Island’s community action gives me hope for the rest of Australia. On the mainland and our other islands, ferals are too often winning. Predation by 20 million feral cats is creating carnage, killing up to 80 million native animals per day across Australia. To avoid more extinctions, this has to be addressed. When we lose our native species, we lose forever a part of what it is that makes us Australians.

So Christmas Island is a beacon. It is sending a message that we can turn back the tide of feral animal invasion and allow Australia’s unique plants and animals to start winning again.

Gregory Andrews, Threatened Species Commissioner