The Australian government intends to eliminate two million feral cats by the end of the decade. In addition, new safe havens will be created to protect other endangered animals from attack.
More than 120 threatened species — including the hairy-nosed wombat, the northern quoll, and the boobook owl — have become prey for cats in the wild, which can weigh as much as 33 pounds.
“Each cat kills between three and 20 native animals a day,” Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in April. “So if you assume four animals a day, that’s carnage of 80 million native animals a day.”
In announcing the policy, the government said, “More than 80 per cent of our mammals and 90 per cent of our trees, ferns and shrubs occur nowhere else on earth. But since European settlement, in just over 200 years, over 130 of Australia’s known species have become extinct, lost to us and to the world forever. The list of those threatened with extinction continues to grow. Australia’s threatened species are ours to protect and we all have a role to play.”
It will take what it calls a “science-based approach” to “ensure the actions we choose are the ones most likely to succeed.”
Key targets include:
- 2 million feral cats culled by 2020
- 20 threatened mammals improving by 2020
- 20 threatened birds improving by 2020
- Protecting Australia’s plants
- Improving recovery guidance
$6.6 million has been allocated to the plan, and the majority of the funds will go to feral cat eradication.
Methods to be used include detector dogs, fencing and shooting, as well as “Curiosity”, described as the new humane feral cat bait. It contains a toxic compound that stops the flow of oxygen in the poisoned cat..
Western colonists introduced cats to the continent, where runaways and abandoned pets have evidently thrived. Most estimates put the number of feral cats in Australia at 20 million, while some suspect there may be as many as 30 million.
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can eradicate them,” says Dr. Jim Radford, a conservationist with the conservation organization Bush Heritage Australia. “It’s difficult to bait and trap them, because they’re very shy, and culling through shooting is very difficult; you can’t shoot that many cats.”
“Australia is more vulnerable to introduced pests, because it’s been an island for so many millions of years,” he added. “The evolutionary history has been one of long isolation, and species here don’t have the wherewithal to survive these invasive pests.”