Robot terminators cull stray cats in Australia in bid to protect Night Parrot species

Australia allocates 65,000-hectare former pastoral land as sanctuary for endangered bird
By @vitthernandez on
Feral Cat
Here's a feral cat with a marsupial Pseudantechinus from a wallaby cave. We think feral cats are the key threat to the survival of small rare black-footed rock-wallabies and possibly these other small mammals out in the desert. Facebook/John Read The Pragmatic Ecologist/Bec West

It costs the Australian government, and Bush Heritage Australia, a biodiversity group, $450,000 to protect the endangered Night Parrot population in the country by using grooming traps to kill 20 million stray cats across Australia. However, the robot terminators don’t bear a likeness to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Robocop character.

Instead, it is a trap that uses the cat’s natural inclination to lick and clean itself that helps kill the animal. The device was invented by John Read, an ecologist, who knew it was difficult to attract and lure the cats into kill boxes, reports Daily Caller.

Rather than bait the animal, the machines spray poison on the feral cats as it passes by. By its nature, the cat would lick itself, which would make the animal ingest the poison. However, the machine would not spray poison on any animal that passes.

The robot terminator has a series of radar detectors which detect if an animal is a cat or not by its height. The spray is also not trigger by animals that drag it belly like the wombat because the robot must see between the cat’s legs measured by the robot to determine if it is a cat or another animal.

To attract the feral cats, the gadget emits a signal that sounds like a cat’s prey. Last week, Read switched on the robot terminators at the Pullen Pullen Reserve, Venus Bay and Wilpena in Queensland. He says the three are just trial locations to test and optimise the trap so he could redesign and make 50 more traps to be spread in more locations.

On Sunday, the group announced the designation of the 56,000-hectare Pullen Reserve as a Night Parrot Sanctuary to protect the endangered species, the only known population of Night Parrots in the world. The land is a former pastoral lease lot that the Queensland government approved transferred to Bush Heritage Australia.

Night Parrot The first Night Parrot captured by Dr Steve Murphy.  Bush Heritage Australia/Rachel Barr

It is working closely with Dr Steve Murphy, the top expert in Australia when it comes to the Night Parrot, to map the bird’s habitat at the reserve and put in place necessary conservation planning to increase the parrot’s chance of survival. John Young, an ornithologist, discovered in 2013 the Night Parrot in a farmer's cattle property in western Queensland and took photos and videos of the lone avian he saw. The Night Parrot is on Australia’s list of 20 priority bird species.

To get a glimpse of the parrot, Murphy uses a very sensitive microphone that could pick sounds of mosquitoes or his pulse. He spent 60,000 hours searching for the two-note whistle of the Night Parrot that should like a bell, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. He held the bird, weighed it, took a feather for DNA and attached a 0.42-gramme radio tracker on its tail and then released the elusive Night Parrot, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

A feral cat is estimated to kill five animals a day, and with the cat’s population estimated at 20 million across Australia, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the feral cats are a threat to native animal population.