New research has shown feral cats cover over 99.8 per cent of Australia’s land area. By comparison, 85.1 per cent of Australia has internet access.
That’s a lot of feral cats, and they are causing huge problems for our wildlife.
40 of Australia’s top environmental scientists brought together evidence from almost 100 studies in this latest research.
“Australia’s total feral cat population fluctuates between 2.1 million when times are lean, up to 6.3 million when widespread rain results in plenty of available prey,” said Dr Sarah Legge from The University of Queensland.
The scientists also looked at why some areas are more densely populated – such as small islands – and revealed cat densities are the same both inside and outside conservation reserves, such as National Parks. Declaring protected areas alone is clearly not enough to safeguard our native wildlife.
“At the moment feral cats are undermining the efforts of conservation managers and threatened species recovery teams across Australia,” says Dr Legge.
Dr Legge says it is pushing conservation managers into “expensive, last resort conservation options”, such as fenced areas and establishing populations on predator-free islands. These projects are essential for preventing extinctions, Dr Legge says – but they are not enough.
“They protect only a tiny fraction of Australia’s land area, leaving feral cats to wreak havoc over the remaining 99.8 per cent of the country.”
Mr Gregory Andrews, Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner, says Australia is the only continent on Earth other than Antarctica where the animals evolved without cats, which is a reason our wildlife is so vulnerable to them.
“This science reaffirms the importance of the ambitious targets to cull feral cats that I am implementing with the support of Minister Frydenberg under the Threatened Species Strategy,” said Mr Andrews.
We also need to address the issue of feral cats living in heavily urbanised areas, According to Dr Legge, where their densities can be 30 times greater than in natural environments.
“As well as preying on the threatened species that occur in and near urban areas, these urban feral cats may provide a source of feral cats to bushland areas.”
The research was funded by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.