Recent research published by the CSIRO has estimated that feral cats kill 75 million animals every night in Australia, placing them as the leading cause of population decline in native mammals, way ahead of climate change.
According to a report in The Australian, there are 15 million feral cats in this country, which kill an estimated five animals each per night. This includes not only mammals, but reptiles and birds as well.
The ‘Action Plan for Australian Mammals’, co-authored by three conservation experts, placed 133 mammals in the “extinct or threatened” category, yet only 115 are listed under the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The study also found that extinctions were 40 per cent higher than previously thought.
In response to the findings, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has called for research into a virus to eradicate feral cats. Mr Hunt said the government endorsed a dedicated eradication program, the use of “island arks” that exclude invasive species, and a research into a “safe and targeted form of biological control”.
Domestic cat owners would likely be required to immunise their pets against the disease.
“In many cases the feral cats are domestic cats which have escaped and over one or two generations morphed into a far more savage beast,” Mr Hunt told ABC Radio.
“We have to make sure that anything we do is safe and targeted because there are plenty of examples of biological controls which have not just failed but have been deeply counterproductive.
Charles Darwin University professor of conservation biology John Woinarski, a co-author of the study, said a virus was “probably the long-term solution that we’re looking for” but urged “stopgap measures” such as tall fences.
“It may take 10 or 20 years to develop such a system. In the meantime species will disappear, mammal species will disappear,” Professor Woinarski said.
“People like cats, I understand that, they’re nice animals but in the wild they’re a ferocious predator, extremely hungry, extremely able and I think the Australian native mammals simply can’t cope.”