Study finds cat poop culprit in cold case of WA penguin deaths

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Sardines, an important prey species for the Razorbill, have been shown to be able to transmit the disease once it enters waterways.

Toxoplasmosis has also been observed in African penguins and New Zealand dolphins. Pregnant women are also advised not to handle cat feces as the disease can be passed on to unborn babies with potentially serious health consequences such as brain damage and blindness.

Scientists believe a parasite in some cat poo entered Western Australian waterways, was passed on to fish which were then eaten by penguins, resulting in the death of the latter.Credit:International Journal of Parasitology: Parasites and Fauna

Dr Cannell said the point of infection was still difficult to determine because penguins on the island travel as far south as Geographe Bay.

“But there’s also this question of why there was this real glut from 2011 to 2013 and not much since,” she said.

“We haven’t done any investigation on this, but I think…2011 was the year of the sea heat wave and we had a lot more tropical fish in the penguins’ diet in 2011 and 2012.

“So if they’re feeding on species that come from more tropical areas and there are more cats in that area…that’s the kind of thing that we just can’t measure.”

Dr. Cannell said the study results were just another factor to consider when it comes to the impact of cats on the environment.

“It’s definitely something to consider that cats don’t just have an impact by killing birds and lizards on land. That’s another impact they can have,” she said.

“It’s one of those quiet, invisible impacts.”

Drop in penguin numbers

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The population of little Western Australian penguins on Penguin and Garden Islands has declined over the years.

The number of penguins on Penguin Island, which was previously over 2,000, has declined to around 300 after an 80% decline between 2007 and 2020.

Half of the chicks from the 2021 breeding season died as Perth went through its hottest summer on record in another devastating blow.

A previous study by Dr Cannell in 2016 found that 25% of known penguin mortality in Western Australia came from collisions with watercraft like boats.

Debate is also raging over a plan to replace the aging Penguin Island Discovery Center, which receives around 130,000 tourists each year, as some scientists say construction would be too disruptive as the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and of attractions, which manages the reserve, so wishes. go forward.

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