While the folks Down Under might have a few things to learn from the Yanks about freedom and gun-ownership rights, it appears they might definitely be ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding the threat posed to their native birds and wildlife by felines allowed to roam free by the millions—feral cats.
Last month, the Australian government announced its plans to kill at least 2 million feral cats, using various methods, within the next 5 years.
Gregory Andrews, the country’s first Threatened Species Commissioner, said a feral cat cull of massive proportions is needed to save imperiled species of marsupials and other animals unique to the island continent.
“Of the 29 mammals that we’ve lost to extinction, feral cats are implicated in 28 out of those 29 extinctions, and over 120 Australian animals are at risk of extinction from feral cats,” Andrew told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last month. “It’s very important to emphasize, too, that we don’t hate cats. We just can’t tolerate the damage that they’re doing anymore to our wildlife.”
According to the Washington Post, feral cats are the biggest threat to endangered mammals in Australia, a country that has one of the worst extinction records in the world. Some of the mammals on the verge of extinction include the greater bilby, eastern bettong, western quoll, and the numbat.
The government is asking Australian cat owners to contain, desex, and microchip their pets to aid the initiative.
Pull The Weed By The Roots
Australia’s feral cat problem has gotten so bad that the government is now planning a cull of massive proportions. According to a 5-year plan recently unveiled by Environment Minister Greg Hunt, the Department of the Environment is planning to cull at least 2 million cats by 2020.
Feral cats are a major invasive species in Australia and are considered one of the top threats to native mammals and birds. The felines also prevent wildlife agencies from reintroducing threatened species back into the wild as they would simply be hunted and eaten as soon as they were released. It is estimated that feral cats kill over 75 million native animals every day.
“We are drawing a line in the sand today which says ‘on our watch, in our time, no more species extinction,’” Hunt told The Guardian. “It’s tough, it’s a challenge, we can do much and we can do better.”
Cats were first imported into Australia around the turn of the nineteenth century by European settlers. They remain a popular pet, with roughly one in four households having at least one feline. However, settlers far underestimated their ability to adapt and survive in the wild, and today feral cats far outnumber their domestic counterparts.
While the cull may seem large and ambitious, some experts point out that there are more than 20 million feral cats in Australia, making the cat hunt seem like little more than a drop in the bucket. Nonetheless, conservation groups agreed that if applied strategically, the cull could make a large difference for the over 120 native species that the cats threaten.