A feral cat’s attempt to predate a Collared Petrel at its nest on Gau is caught on camera
Fiji is the home of the largest number of Collared Petrels in the world, it is a threatened species which is currently categorized as Vulnerable on the Red List.
The Fiji Petrel Project has been researching and conserving Collared Petrels on Gau for the past seven years and has realized the very serious threat posed by feral cats predating Collared and presumably Fiji petrels.
This year the project has installed Trail Cameras to record activity at nests, cat traps and other research sites. One of the first burrows monitored with a trail camera revealed a cat trying to catch the petrel chick in the burrow, confirming what the project has long feared.
Currently the project is monitoring 88 nesting burrows on Gau. Each burrow has a unique number given to it, a GPS location is taken and a plastic tag with the number placed near the burrow. Small sticks are placed across burrows by the project to check whether there has been any activity at the burrow between monitoring visits.
A cat visits the burrow and immediately checks out the camera. It is able to smell the petrel and so endeavours to extract the chick from the burrow but is unable to do so because the nesting burrow tunnels are usually between 1 & 2 metres long.
However, cats are able to catch adult petrels as they enter or leave their burrows and nestling petrels which have to leave their nesting burrows for short periods to practice flying during the last week before they actually fly off out to sea.
The project recorded the remains of 12 cat predated collared petrels during the 2013 breeding season. With only 42 active nests documented in 2013, that is a very heavy mortality for the population to bear.
The good news is that as far as we know, the Collared Petrel from burrow Q3 fledged successfully. The bad news is that we have not been able to trap that cat.
In 2013, the Fiji Petrel Project was assisted by grants from the Pacific Conservation and Development Fund (NZ’s Rainbow Warrior fund) and Fauna and Flora International’s Flagship Species Fund and in addition to keeping our two detector dogs working, the project has focused on working with three communities to assist in the basic petrel conservation work.
The project’s manager on the island, Poasa Qalo from Nukuloa village has worked extremely hard during the year after taking up the position at the beginning of the year.
Manu Cirivesi and his assistants have continued the monitoring, rat baiting and cat trapping at the Qarani colony, while Joeli Kove with assistants from Navukailagi have overseen the rat baiting, cat trapping, nest monitoring and new burrow searching at the Delaisavu collared petrel colony.