“I spent 15 years removing cats from fenced reserves and national parks,” says Katherine Moseby. “And then, all of a sudden, I was putting them back in. It felt very strange to be doing that.”
It is a hot, intensely blue day in the Australian outback, about 350 miles (560km) north of Adelaide. I’m tagging along with Moseby as she checks the batteries on the motion-sensitive cameras that dot Arid Recovery, an ecosystem restoration project she and her husband launched in 1997. The project sprawls over 47 square miles (12,200 hectares) of red earth and scrub. It’s surrounded by a six-foot-tall fence, which is designed to keep out feral cats and foxes.
Inside the main barrier is a series of smaller fenced-in paddocks. Several years ago, Moseby decided to start adding cats into some of these. Her reasoning was simple and, in its way, radical. The outback ecosystem had been so fundamentally changed, that, if the native animals were to survive, they would have to change, too.
Perhaps they could be trained to avoid cats introduced to the country by British colonists and now can be found virtually everywhere in Australia, including most islands.
“A lot of the focus has been on trying to come up with methods of killing cats better,” says Moseby, who holds a PhD in reintroduction biology. “And we sort of started looking at it from the prey perspective, like, what about if we make prey better? Will that help?
Because ultimately coexistence is where we’re trying to get to. We’re not going to ever get rid of every cat in the whole of Australia.”