Last year, the staff of Parks Victoria racked up a $2.2 million credit card bill, which prompted an audit requested by the state government opposition.
The Victorian state government agency looks after four million hectares of parks and marine sanctuaries.As it turns out, taxpayer money has been spent on jewellery, at electronics stores, a hotel, a pub, and on various takeaway foods, including pizza and Subway.
It’s up to an audit to determine which of these purchases were justified, but one of the items has shed light on a little-considered aspect of wildlife conservation.
The credit card records, obtained through a freedom of information request, revealed a $260 spend on KFC over the span of four months. It looks bad at first glance, but this one might actually be a genuine parks maintenance expense.
Australia has a massive feral cat problem—a recent study revealed that their numbers fluctuate between 2.1 to 6.3 million.
Thus it's no wonder that baiting and trapping feral cats is a common practice for conservation managers at national parks where the predators endanger small native wildlife.
And that’s where the KFC comes in: apparently it makes for popular and effective cat bait because it retains its smell for extended periods.
Southern Fried Trap
Several experts have confirmed this to be the case to Guardian Australia, stating that there may not be much scientific data on the use of fried chicken for luring cats, but it’s certainly a common option used by wildlife park managers, especially in urban areas where the feral cats are more used to the pungent smell of greasy fried chicken shops.
“It is a popular bait with a strong aroma that is very attractive to carnivores,” said feral cat expert Prof Christopher Dickman from the University of Sydney.
Dr Alan Robley from Arthur Rylah Institute for environmental research also told Guardian Australia that Parks Victoria certainly uses fried chicken to lure feral cats.
“Fried chicken is included in the national guidelines for trapping feral cats and is used due to its scent and prolonged freshness,” he explained.
However, so far KFC has not helped us save native Australian wildlife from these pests. Scientists are arguing we need to develop new strategies for controlling feral cats which have currently spread basically throughout the whole country—99.8% of it, according to Dr Sarah Legge from the University of Queensland.
According to her, there is “an urgent need to develop effective control methods, and to target our efforts in areas where that control will produce the biggest gains.”