Australia has a serious cat problem, with feral cats covering 99.8% of the country according to new research published in the journal Biological Conservation.
The exact number of cats fluctuates from roughly 1.4 million after continent-wide droughts cramp food sources to about 5.6 million after extensive wet periods, which result in plenty of available prey. An additional 700,000 feral cats are estimated to live in other environments, including Australia’s urban areas, rubbish dumps and intensive farms.
And this has led some of the country’s top environmental scientists to look into the issue by collating the results over nearly 100 studies.
The sheer number of cats is undermining the efforts of conservation managers and threatened species recovery teams.
Problems are particularity acute in urban areas, where their densities are 30 times greater.
Australia is the only continent on earth in which animals evolved without cats meaning indigenous species are vulnerable to them.
Gregory Andrews, Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner, told The Age: ‘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.’
Researchers say that the cats’ impact on Australia’s fauna is still severe, and that reducing this impact is of critical importance. The BBC reports that since 1788, about 11% of the country’s 273 native mammals have gone extinct, with a major factor being introduction of the predatory red fox and feral cat from Europe.
“Our study highlights the scale and impacts of feral cats and the urgent need to develop effective control methods, and to target our efforts in areas where that control will produce the biggest gains,” the study’s author, Dr. Sarah Legge from The University of Queensland, said in a statement.
Recreational and professional hunters could ease this burden with access to the right areas. If they are serious a bounty would be a real option used alongside other control methods.