In DepthConservation

In Australia, a bold effort to teach rare animals to fear cats

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  24 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6442, pp. 721
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6442.721

You are currently viewing the summary.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

Summary

As a child, conservation biologist Katherine Moseby adored her pet kitties and excused their habit of killing wildlife. But later, after seeing the massive toll that feral cats take on Australia's native fauna, she orchestrated the deaths of thousands of cats. Cats are difficult to eradicate, however, and watching them defeat numerous efforts to reintroduce rare species made Moseby, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, realize that "We had to think of a different way of doing things." So, for nearly 5 years, a team she helps lead has been trying to teach Australian mammals that didn't evolve with cats to fear their feline enemies. At a massive reserve in the Australian desert, the researchers have been placing threatened species into large fenced plots together with cats in hopes that, faced with extreme selective pressure, some individuals will learn or adapt to avoid attacks. And results published last week suggest the "vaccination" approach has promise: Animals exposed to cats in a controlled setting were more likely to survive later, when they were released among feral cats, than those that hadn't been exposed, the researchers reported in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

  • * Ashley Braun is a journalist in Seattle, Washington. The Solutions Journalism Network supported reporting for this story.