Cats Felis catus
The Cat is known to have been introduced into south-eastern Australia by
the early European settlers. However, it is possible that cats may have been present in Australia for up to 500 years. It is now thought that cats arrived in the west during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries from
Portuguese and Dutch shipwrecks, and in the north from the Macassan traders on fishing trips to the Top End (Wagner 1997, pp. 20-21). Feral
cats can kill animals up to 2–3 kg. They prefer mammals up to 220 g and birds less than 200 g, but will take reptiles, amphibians, and
invertebrates as well as carrion. Feral cat predation has been linked to the disappearance of thirteen species of mammals and four species of birds from the western division of New South Wales by 1857. Current
impacts on native species are most likely in modified fragmented environments and where alternative prey such as rabbits or house mice fluctuate in abundance.1 Feral cats are wary of humans and are most
active at night. They spend most of the day in a shelter such as a rabbit burrow or hollow log.
In favourable habitats the feral cat population may exceed one cat per square kilometre, but feral cat home ranges can extend up to eight
kilometres. In most Australian regions feral cat populations are now probably fairly stable (Jones 1991, p. 489). Their depredations are augmented by the activities of uncontrolled domestic and stray cats in
areas like Berowra Valley.
No research has been done on the impact of feral, stray or domestic cats in the Park. However, one study of domestic-cat predation in Canberra
suburbs showed that in one twelve-month period of the study, 214 domestic cats (some of which moved up to 900 m into adjoining bushland) took some 2000 vertebrate prey items representing sixty
-seven species. Their main prey consisted of house mice 50 per cent, black rats 7 per cent, and birds 27 per cent. The birds were represented by 47 species, 41 of which were native. Predation beyond suburban
edges is most likely to affect birds, arboreal native marsupials (such as sugar gliders) and small ground dwellers (like dunnarts) (Barratt 1998).
Foxes Vulpes vulpes
The Fox was introduced into Australia in the 1860s near Melbourne as a sporting animal. It has now spread to most of the continent except for the
tropics and Tasmania. It is the largest terrestrial predator in Australia after the dingo and feral dog. Basically a carnivore, the Fox is, however,
an opportunistic feeder and its diet can vary from wild fruit and insects to carrion, small mammals and garbage. Foxes normally have a home range of two to five square kilometres. They are present but seldom seen
in most urban areas.
In Europe foxes are a vector for the transmission of rabies, and it would be a major problem if this disease ever took hold in Australia (Coman
1991, p. 486). Foxes are also a vector for spreading noxious weeds including blackberries.
In 1997 Hornsby Council, in conjunction with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, began a fox control program, which in 2000 was
extended to the Park as an ongoing annual activity. The success of the program was indicated by the return of bandicoots, plovers, lyrebirds and brush turkeys to many bushland areas.
Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus
Rabbits, common prey of foxes and cats, arrived with the First Fleet. These were most likely domesticated silver-grey meat rabbits. The
Reverend Samuel Marsden tried to set up a warren at Parramatta in 1806. In 1827 concern was expressed about rabbit populations in Tasmania. However, wild populations did not thrive on the mainland until
a shipment of twenty-four genetically wild rabbits was released by Thomas Austin at ‘Barwon Park’ near Geelong, Victoria, in 1858. By 1865 these rabbits were well established and they now occupy four million
square kilometres of Australia south of the tropic of Capricorn (Croft 1996, p. 33). Rabbits are a major pest in inland areas. Although coastal sclerophyll forests are a less suitable habitat, rabbits will harbour in
sclerophyll bushland and feed out onto grassy suburban areas such as lawns and semi-rural areas and paddocks.
Rabbits occur around the Park, and appeared to decline with increased urbanisation (personal observation), but by 1999 there were increasing
reports of sightings of both wild and domestic rabbits in suburban areas.
Myxomatosis and calicivirus may be helping to reduce numbers in many areas, but by 2000 calicivirus had not shown any effects on rabbit populations in the Sydney region.
Genetic studies by Dr Lynton Davies have indicated that the feral rabbit populations in and around Sydney are distinctly genetically different from
feral rabbit populations in other areas of Australia (Davis 1998). The reasons for this may be attributed to escapes of pet rabbits into the wild population and Marsden’s original rabbits being of French origin. This
has resulted in Sydney rabbits having a degree of immunity to calicivirus.
Carp Cyprinus carpio
The troublesome Carp is one of a number of fishes introduced since European settlement. It has become well established in the major river
systems and is blamed for contributing to the reduction in native fish populations in the Murray-Darling basin. Its bottom-feeding habits stir up mud and undermine stream banks, increase turbidity, destroy aquatic
plant beds and release nutrients into the water that can cause algal blooms (Harris 1994 pp. 65-73). Unfortunately these fishes are now established in the upper reaches of Berowra Creek.
Gambusia Gambusi holbrooki
The United States Army introduced Mosquito Fish, Gambusia or Eastern Gambusia, in many countries in the 1920s in an attempt to control
malaria by reducing mosquito populations. The gambusia were a failure at this task, but reduced native fish populations by predation and competition. (Harris 1996, p. 68).
Rats Rattus rattus & Rattus norvegicus
The Black Rat Rattus rattus and the Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus arrived with the First Fleet and have thrived near human habitation ever since.
The Black Rat has been more successful and has spread around most of the coastal areas, whereas the distribution of the Brown Rat is patchier.
The Brown Rat is generally found around buildings and wharves and occasionally along creek banks. It is a larger and much more aggressive
animal than either the Bush or Black Rats. Fortunately for the Park, it appears to prefer proximity to human habitation rather than the bush (Watts 1991, pp. 452-54).
House Mice Mus musculus
The well-known pest, the House Mouse Mus musculus, also arrived with the Europeans. It reaches plague proportions in wheat-growing areas.
Some twenty mouse plagues affecting twenty per cent of the land have occurred in Australia since 1960 (Newsome 1991, p. 455). In central Australia the House Mouse is believed to have replaced some native
species, but apparently this does not happen in coastal habitats. In some areas the House Mouse can become abundant about eighteen months after bushfires when native species are rare, but disappears
within three to four years as native rodents become more abundant (p. 455). Hornsby Conservation Society’s mammal survey in the 1970s collected one animal some distance from habitation in the Elouera Bushland. While Mus musculus is found in both the Park and in houses
generally, so far it has become a pest only in the urban situation.
Dogs Canis familiaris
Dingoes no longer exist in Berowra Valley and there are few if any feral
dogs. However, poorly controlled domestic dogs still represent a significant threat to wildlife in the park, particularly if they are allowed to roam free at night. Owners of such dogs should be aware that during fox
baiting periods their pets share the same risks as foxes.According to older residents, most of the original wallaby population around Hornsby was decimated by a pack of beagles owned and exercised in 1966-75 by
a now-deceased local resident. As recently as 1996 a rottweiler chased and seized a Swamp Wallaby Wallabia bicolor on Waitara Creek. A Swamp Wallaby was subsequently found dead in the vicinity and its
skeleton given to the Australian Museum. Dogs should now be better controlled under the provisions of the Companion Animals Act.
Other unwanted aliens
There are other pests that infest Australia such as pigs, goats and deer.
However, there appeared to be no extant breeding populations of these in Berowra Valley in 2000. There have been reports of feral pigs being released by misguided hunters in the Maroota area, and early in 2000
three pigs were reported from the Calna Creek area of the Park. Some goats and cattle have also been reported from time to time, which will be eradicated as they are located
The Cat is also a carrier of toxoplasmosis — a
parasitic disease — which affects humans and marsupials. The combined effects of competition and toxoplasmosis are believed to have contributed to the decline of the Dasuryid native cats (such as the quoll).
The Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW) requires more control and identification of
domestic cats, which should reduce dumping of unwanted cats and the number of uncontrolled cats abroad at night.
The Fox was listed as a key threatening process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act
in 1999. Unfortunately, many people feed foxes because they look cute or by inadvertently leaving pet food outside, or food scraps on open compost mounds. This encourages foxes into
gardens and supports a fox population on the urban fringe.
Decline in the rabbit population will mean that integrated pest management measures to
balance prey and predators will need to be employed to avoid increased predation on native animals.
Control measures include commercial electro-fishing, but these have not yet been applied in
Berowra Creek where large brightly coloured varieties discarded from garden ponds may also be seen.
Gambusia thrive in fresh or salt water and are present in most streams
This is a native Bush Rat Rattus fuscipes
Black Rats Rattus rattus are usually found along
the urban interface in the Park. Population pressures force the older, weaker and younger rats into nearby bushland to forage and nest. Some populations are found in the same areas as the native bush rats Rattus fuscipest
Black Rats can be found in bushland around Berowra Valley in the same areas as the native Bush Rats Rattus fuscipes.
So far there is no evidence that they are
having much impact on the native rodents. The Black Rat is, however, a carrier of such diseases as salmonella and leptispirosis, and in Europe it carried the plague bacillus.
Dog owners who regularly walk their leashed dogs in the Park should be aware that the
Park is closed to dogs during fox baiting periods as the baits are poisonous to all dogs. Dog owners should refer to signage at track heads for details of times
Barratt, D.G. 1998, ‘Predation by house cats, Felis catus (L), in Canberra, Factors affecting amount of prey caught and estimates of impact’, Wildlife Research, vol. 25, pp. 475-87.
Coman, B.J. 1991, ‘Fox’, in Strahan, p. 486.
Croft, D. 1996, ‘The Rabbit in Australia’, in Diekman, p. 33.
Davis, L. 1998, ‘Feral Animals in an Urban Environment’, unpublished paper presented to National Parks and Wildlife Service Conference, ‘Feral Animals in an Urban Environment’.
Diekman B. (ed.) Unwanted Aliens in Australia, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Sydney.
Harris, J.H. 1996, ‘Alien Fishes in Australia’, in Diekman, pp. 65-73.
Jones, E. 1991, ‘Feral Cat’, in Strahan, p. 489.
Newsome, A.E. 1991, ‘House Mouse’, in Strahan, p. 455.
Slater, P. et al. 1986, The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds, Rigby, Sydney.
Strahan, R. (ed.) 1991, Complete Book of Australian Mammals, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
Wagner, P. 1997, ‘Tracing the feral feline family tree’, Australian Geographic, no. 46, April-June, Sydney, pp. 20-21.
Watts, C.H.S. 1991, ‘Black Rat’ and ‘Brown Rat’, in Strahan, pp
Reporting Sightings of Feral or Native Animals
The public can help by reporting sightings or signs of any feral or stray animals to Hornsby Council and/or the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Community provision of information on fox dens or cat lairs would
likewise be particularly useful. Reports of feral animal sightings or traces are useful to the Park Managers in helping to control these pests. If possible you should accurately note where and when you saw the animal
or animals, record the date, time of day, number sighted and, if possible, the map reference or nearest track location.
Should you happen to sight rare or unusual native animals or birds, such as Koalas, Quolls, Brush Turkeys, Eagles, Powerful or Sooty Owls, Bandicoots, Platypus, or even the Water - rat (distinguished by its white tail tip)
this information is also of great assistance to the Managers.
Sightings should be reported to:
Berowra Valley National Park
Lower Hawkesbury Area
National Parks and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 3056, Asquith, NSW 2077