Cats kill two billion animals in Australia each year


Some two billion birds, mammals and reptiles are being killed by pet and feral cats per year in Australia, according to a new book written by three of the country's leading scientists. Most of the animals being killed are natives, with 1.3 million birds thought to be predated annually.

The book, Cats in Australia: Companion and Killer, compiles key findings from hundreds of studies of cats across Australia, looking at the origin and spread of cats, impacts of feral populations in wildlife and the option for managing feline populations to reduce to effect on Australian biodiversity.

Cats kill an estimated 1.3 million birds annually in Australia (Ivan Radic).

The authors, Professor Sarah Legge from The Australian National University (ANU), Professor John Woinarski from Charles Darwin University and Professor Chris Dickman from The University of Sydney, are also leaders of a major research programme investigating the impacts of feral cats on Australian wildlife. Legge said: "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.

"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.

"While 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."

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? He commented: "Cats tamed humans about 4,000 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. 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.

"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."