Kangaroo Island cat-proof fence that divides peninsula nears completion

FENCE CONCERNS: Pelican Lagoon resident Indiana James at the northernmost gap in the new cat-proof fence where a designated road runs along the lagoon bank. Photo: Stan Gorton
FENCE CONCERNS: Pelican Lagoon resident Indiana James at the northernmost gap in the new cat-proof fence where a designated road runs along the lagoon bank. Photo: Stan Gorton

The cat-proof fence that now divides Kangaroo Island at it narrowest point is nearing completion.

The cat eradication program is well underway on the eastern end of the island and the electrified fence is meant to keep cats out of the eastern end once complete.

The entire length of the fence has been installed, two of three designated openings along fence have now been closed, leaving the gaps down by Hog Bay Road and Pelican Lagoon.

Workers are still putting finishing touches on the fence before the official opening.

FENCED IN: Kangaroos run along the new cat-proof fence on the weekend. Photo: Stan Gorton

FENCED IN: Kangaroos run along the new cat-proof fence on the weekend. Photo: Stan Gorton

Locals are concerned the now closed fence appears to be having some negative impacts on kangaroos and potentially other native wildlife.

Questions also remain about how native wildlife and vehicles will interact at the only openings at Hog Bay Road.

Kangaroo Island Landscape Board however is pleased with progress and was comfortable with any impacts on native wildlife.

General manager Will Durack said the fence was on track to be officially opened next month.

"As the lead agency of the feral cat eradication program, the KI Landscape Board have worked extensively to both plan and execute the fence in a way that minimises impacts on native animals, while ensuring the success of the cat eradication program," he said.

"This has been done in conjunction with the RSPCA. During fence construction we have also been closely monitoring animal behaviour and we are not currently concerned about welfare issues."

The feral-cat steering committee, that includes RSPCA representatives, community members and other experts, is overseeing the whole cat eradication program, he said.

Local landowner Indiana James has been monitoring kangaroo movements for almost five years, building up his census and data base.

A major concern for him and other landowners was kangaroos being forced down to the road and the only gaps in the fence.

Kangaroos had traditionally moved through the area to access water and it was not unusual to see 20 or more move across the road every day, he said.

"My view is that the gaps in the fence need to be left open until such time the impact on the movement of kangaroos and other wildlife can be properly monitored," Mr James said.

He would like to see the data collected on road kill numbers by authorities, and his research indicated there was not much official data to be accessed.

The Landscape Board experts were of the view that the 20-metre gaps on either side of the road would be sufficient for the kangaroos to move through without going on the roadway. The board is also exploring a range of technologies to be used at the road gap.

The KI Council and state transport department have been in discussion surrounding vegetation clearance and speed limits along that section of Hog Bay Road, but it was unclear whether progress had been made.

The Islander posed the question about the movement of native wildlife during the fence planning process in 2019.

Here is our past coverage of the fence:

At the time, the state government agencies stated the gaps would initially be left open to allow the movement of wildlife.

And that they would be monitored with cameras and potentially armed with technology that targeted cats.

"Spaces will be left in the fence to allow for native animals including Kangaroos to cross, as well as for Hog Bay Road, the Island's east-west main road. Cat movement at the spaces will be monitored with an eye to investigating various technology to eventually stop cats crossing," the agencies said at the time.

The decision had now been taken to close the gates to progress the mission of cat eradication.

Mr Durack said his agency had observed that "kangaroos quickly realise there is a fence there and figure out where to travel to get around them, as they do with the numerous fences around the island".

"The people involved in this program are experts in their field," Mr Durack said.

Likewise, the board was not concerned about kangaroos or other native wildlife plummeting down the cliff where the fence terminates at its southern end at the cliff edge.

Mr James was also curious as to whether there had been evidence, photographic or otherwise, of cats moving through the fence gaps since construction began.

His view was the fence was also impacting on other native wildlife on the ground such a goannas and wallabies.

The KI Landscape Board was in the midst of its Dudley Peninsula cat eradication process and Mr Durack was pleased with its progress.

Cats were far more challenging to eradicate than pigs, currently being targeted on the western end, or goats that were successfully eradicated about three years ago.

The board was taking a slow and systematic approach, eradicating cats from the Dudley Peninsula in a line that was constantly moving westward toward the fence.

An overhanging top and electric wires on the western side of the fence was meant to prevent cats moving back onto the Dudley Peninsula.

The idea was then to begin cat eradication on the western end of the Island, he said.

Regardless of feral cats impact on native wildlife, the agricultural industry is also keen to see feral cats eradicated as they are the main carriers for several diseases such as Toxoplasmosis and Sarcocystosis that hit farmer's pockets hard.

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