An Australian innovation offers a potential solution to the nation’s feral cat problem, and mining companies in the Pilbara region of WA are supporting the initiative in one of the first national trials of the device to protect threatened native species.
Known as the Felixer and about the size of a microwave, the device developed by South Australian environmental consultancy Ecological Horizons is placed in strategic locations where feral cats pose a threat to native animals.
Using sensors and advanced algorithms, the Felixer automatically identifies feral cats and foxes by their unique shape and instantaneously administers a target-specific poison onto their fur.
This approach takes advantage of the fact that feral cats, unlike other animals, are compulsive groomers and will ingest the toxin when licking their fur.
In collaboration with Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions WA, iron ore mining companies, Roy Hill and Fortescue, are trialling the devices in the Pilbara, as a means to protect iconic threatened species of the region.
The two mining companies, with the assistance of Ecological Horizons and DBCA, deployed three of the devices for a two-year research period. Initially each Felixer will be used in photo-only mode to study its efficacy at identifying cats and foxes.
If proven successful, the active mode will be employed, whereby a gel containing a measured dose of 1080 poison is sprayed onto target species. Since 1080 is a toxin that is naturally present in many of Australia’s pea plants, native animals have developed tolerance, while feral cats, foxes and other nonnative species do not have a resistance.
Roy Hill and Fortescue both currently invest in feral animal control programs in the Pilbara, including trapping and baiting. While this is effective at reducing numbers feral animal numbers, an additional tool to protect threatened species is always welcome.
As mining companies Roy Hill and Fortescue work to reduce their environmental impact with offset programs and adopt technologies to enhance operations, innovations such as John Read’s Felixer are incredibly valuable. That’s why the two companies, with the guidance of DCBA, are trialling Felixers in the Pilbara to determine whether the Felixer should be used on a broader scale.
“In addition to protecting important native species, the Felixer is an opportunity for Roy Hill to use advanced technology to improve operations,” said Barry Fitzgerald, the CEO of Roy Hill.
“Provided that the Felixer is successful in the Pilbara, it has the potential to be adopted wherever feral predators pose a threat to biodiversity. This is a prime example of industry, government and start-ups coming together to face a broader issue.”
Fortescue CEO Elizabeth Gaines said, “We are pleased to be involved in this cutting edge research program, which is using the latest feral animal management technology in remote and unmanned locations where traditional feral cat trapping programs are not feasible.”
This story was first published in The Fence magazine.