Queensland authorities are on the hunt for tourists travelling with a passenger its feared could spread “diseases and viruses” into a protected national park.
At the centre of their investigation is an orange and white domestic cat with a fluffy tail.
Photos of the feline were spotted by social media users, who are members of a group dedicated to four-wheel-drive holidays.
They alerted Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) who confirmed images of the cat were taken in protected areas of K’gari (Fraser Island) and Bribie Island.
Domestic pets, including dogs, cats and birds, are banned from entering national parks in Queensland in order to protect wildlife from their impact.
Cats alone have contributed to the demise of more Australia native mammals than any other creature, as they are believed to be the primary cause of 20 extinctions.
Around 98.9 per cent of Australia is now home to feral cats, but their domestic cousins have a significant impact on wildlife, killing an average of 186 animals a year.
Cat could spread disease to island's protected dingoes
QPWS’s Mike Devery described the tourist’s conduct as a “major breach of quarantine” as cats can carry diseases that affect wildlife such as dingoes, known locally as wongari.
The island's population are believed to be the purest in Australia, and unlike in other parts of the country they are protected.
Mr Devery also warned the cat’s presence could attract wongari towards the holiday makers, creating a dangerous situation for all.
“Wongari have an excellent sense of smell, and the smell of a cat could cause them to investigate that odour, which could result in a negative interaction between the pet, its owner and the island’s apex predator,” he said.
Call for harsher penalties to tackle rule breakers
While those responsible could face a $137 fine, many social media users have called on authorities to “get serious” and increase penalties for breaches of the rules.
Some noted the minimum fine for feeding dingoes on K’gari is $2205, and the maximum penalty is $11,028.
“That isn't even a slap on the wrist and won't change their ways at all,” one person wrote.
“We are laughed at by the rest of the world at how we treat our heritage listed areas,” another person added.
“That's cheaper than my pet sitter,” someone else said.
“So cheap! I would take this post down as you’re probably encouraging more people to take their pets with them,” someone joked.
QPWS confirmed they have issued five $137 penalty notices since November 2021, and three of them were for bringing domestic pets onto K’gari.
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