Pet and feral cats together are killing over two billion reptiles, birds and mammals per year in Australia, and most of these animals are natives, according
to a new book written by three of Australia’s leading environmental scientists.
It describes the origins, spread and ecology of cats; the impacts of feral and pet cats on Australian wildlife; the impacts of cats on human health and
livestock productivity; the legal and moral context for their management; and options for managing feral and pet cats to reduce the toll they take
on our biodiversity.
The authors, Professor John Woinarski from Charles Darwin University, Professor Sarah Legge from The Australian National University and Professor Chris
Dickman from The University of Sydney, are also leaders of a major research program investigating the impacts of feral cats on Australian wildlife
through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.
According to Professor Woinarski the book investigates one of Australia’s most complex and controversial conservation management dilemmas – what to do
when a loved one turns bad?
“Cats tamed humans about 4000 years ago and since then they have cunningly used humans to provide food, comfort and safety, and to aid their dispersal
across, and conquest of, most of the world.
“We want to alert and inform all Australians to the threat cats pose to our wildlife. Our community and leaders need to manage this threat far more effectively
if we want to conserve Australia’s unique wildlife,” said Prof Woinarski.
“With almost 4 million pet cats in Australia, this is also a call for those with pet cats to help contribute to this conservation effort, by being responsible
with the cats that own them.
Feral cat caught by camera trap. Image: Northern Territory Government
“Some may think that cats work to keep down the numbers of introduced rabbits, rats and mice, but actually these introduced species are a food source,
boosting the number of cats and hence increasing their impact; and cats aren’t an effective control on introduced pest animals.
Co-author Professor Sarah Legge said people have very deep and conflicting opinions about cats, but there is no denying they are a catastrophic problem
for Australian wildlife, which evolved without cats.
“Australia’s mammal extinction rate is by far the highest in the world and cats have been a leading cause of at least 20, or two-thirds, of our mammal
extinctions over the last 200 years,” said Professor Legge.
“On average, each feral cat in the bush kills a whopping 740 animals per year. In a year with average conditions there are about 2.8 million feral cats,
but that figure can double when good rain leads to an abundance of prey animals.
“On average each pet cat kills about 75 animals per year, but many of these kills are never witnessed by their owners.
“Whilst each urban cats kill fewer animals on average than a feral cat in the bush, in urban areas the density of cats is much higher (over 60 cats
per square kilometre). As a result, cats in urban areas kill many more animals per square kilometre each year than cats in the bush.
Feral cat with Rosella. Image: Brisbane City Council CC BY 2.0
Professor Chris Dickman, co-author of the book, said that each day cats are killing over 3.1 million mammals, 1.8 million reptiles and 1.3 million birds
“Many of Australia’s native species cannot withstand these high levels of predation, and will become increasingly at risk of extinction unless the problem
of cats in Australia is solved.”
Cats in Australia: Companion and killer
is available from CSIRO Publishing and was launched by the
Australian Government’s Threatened Species Commissioner, Dr Sally Box, at the Australian Mammal Society Conference at The University of Sydney this
Cats in Australia Book Cover. Image: CSIRO Publishing
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub is a collaboration of leading Australian research institutions to undertake science to support the recovery of
Australia’s threatened species. It receives funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.
Top image: Feral cat. Image: Anton Darius The Sollers on Unsplash