Ever since the devastating inferno that tore through bushland in Australia’s south-eastern states nearly two years ago, cunning pests have gained an upper hand.
The culprits are feral cats and foxes taking advantage of razed habitats to prey on reptiles, frogs, birds and rock wallabies — to name just a few of the animals facing danger after the fires.
Here enters Gillian Basnett — Australia’s first national feral cat and fox management co-ordinator — who is guiding land managers to give native species a better chance of survival.
“Not only did we lose species [in the fires] but it meant the vegetation changed and we lost a lot of that understory that protects species,” Basnett said.
“It allows for a greater rate of predation in those burnt areas as species try to re-establish.”
Basnett, a Tasmanian who’s worked in over half of Australia’s states and territories and most recently facilitated fire management program Red Hot Tips, will co-ordinate farmers, agencies and landcare groups’ efforts to save native wildlife and protect farmland.
“Getting the community on board can be a bit tricky,” she said.
“Kangaroo Island has done that really well and I’m looking at how that might translate to other groups.”
She is among three other national co-ordinators from the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, who each target management of wild dogs, deer and feral pigs.
“It allows us to focus on our individual species,” Basnett said. “But also work together to get multiple species management.”
The centre, a non-government organisation, received $811,000 for Basnett’s role as part of the federal government’s Bushfire Recovery spending worth $200 million.
Environment minister Sussan Ley said the damage feral predators did was “horrific”.
Feral cats alone were estimated to kill 596 million reptiles, 92 million frogs, 316 million birds and 964 million mammals every year, Ley said.
“Following the Black Summer bushfires and the destruction of millions of hectares of habitat, many native species have been left even more vulnerable,” she said.
“Feral animals also have a devastating effect on agriculture, resulting in the loss of up to $800 million per annum.”
Basnett said achieving results required working across government managed land, private land and empowering community groups.
“The work that the public sector is already doing is vital, and then the key is co-ordinating that with the private and volunteer environment,” she said.