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Assessing Risks to Wildlife from Free-Roaming Hybrid Cats: The Proposed Introduction of Pet Savannah Cats to Australia as a Case Study

1
National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub, Desert Ecology Research Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
2
National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
3
Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
4
National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub, Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, NT 0909, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(10), 795; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100795
Received: 20 August 2019 / Revised: 8 October 2019 / Accepted: 9 October 2019 / Published: 14 October 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interactions of Free-Roaming Cats and Wildlife)
The domestic cat, Felis catus, is often cross-bred with other species in the cat family to produce hybrid or ‘designer’ cats that are sought by people as pets. However, hybrid cats are often surrendered to wildlife shelters, or released, which leads to concern that they may establish free-roaming populations and damage native wildlife. In 2008, the Australian government rejected an application, on precautionary grounds, to import savannah cats (hybrids of the domestic cat and serval Leptailurus serval) into the country. We review the limited information informing this decision and then present a framework that identifies the native mammal species likely to have been most at risk of predation from savannah cats if importation and establishment had occurred. Assuming that savannah cats hunt similar prey to those that are hunted by both parent species, we estimate that 91% of Australia’s extant terrestrial mammal fauna would likely face some risk of predation from savannah cats, including 93% of non-volant mammal species that have threatened conservation status. The framework results strongly validate the decision to ban savannah cats from Australia. We suggest that our framework approach could be adapted to assess the likely risks that are posed by the arrival of other hybrid cats or hybrids of other animals.
Hybrid cats—created by crossing different species within the family Felidae—are popular pets, but they could potentially threaten native species if they escape and establish free-roaming populations. To forestall this possibility, the Australian government imposed a specific ban on importation of the savannah cat, a hybrid created by crossing the domestic cat Felis catus and serval Leptailurus serval, in 2008. We develop a decision–framework that identifies those species of non-volant native mammals in Australia that would likely have been susceptible to predation by savannah cats if importation and establishment had occurred. We assumed that savannah cats would hunt ecologically similar prey to those that are depredated by both the domestic cat and the serval, and categorised native mammals as having different levels of susceptibility to predation by savannah cats based on their size, habitat range, and behaviour. Using this framework, we assessed savannah cats as likely to add at least 28 extant native mammal species to the 168 that are known already to be susceptible to predation by the domestic cat, posing a risk to 91% of Australia’s extant non-volant terrestrial mammal species (n = 216) and to 93% of threatened mammal species. The framework could be generalised to assess risks from any other hybrid taxa. View Full-Text
Keywords: decision–framework; Felis catus; hybrid; Leptailurus serval; precautionary principle; predation risk; savannah cat; threatened species decision–framework; Felis catus; hybrid; Leptailurus serval; precautionary principle; predation risk; savannah cat; threatened species
MDPI and ACS Style

Dickman, C.R.; Legge, S.M.; Woinarski, J.C.Z. Assessing Risks to Wildlife from Free-Roaming Hybrid Cats: The Proposed Introduction of Pet Savannah Cats to Australia as a Case Study. Animals 2019, 9, 795.

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