Australian feral cats wreak the most damage

By Signe Cane 3 February 2015
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
More than 400 Australian wildlife species are being hunted by feral cats, more than anywhere else in the world

FERAL CATS IN AUSTRALIA are causing devastation to more than 400 native species, according to a new survey of their impact. 

A large collaboration of researchers analysed faeces and stomach contents of feral cats across the entire continent to ascertain the diets of these feline pests. What they found was bad news for our wildlife.

From a total of 49 published and unpublished data sets, the researchers determined that the menu of feral cats is more extensive than previously thought. In a similar study in Europe data from different islands around the world showed a less varied menu.

“On 40 islands across the globe where feral cat diet data was available, they recorded cats killing and eating 179 species; whereas here in Australia we have 400 different species,” says lead author Tim Doherty, a wildlife ecology PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University in Perth.

“It’s probably because Australia is such a huge landmass – it covers a diverse range of different habitats and ecosystems, and feral cats are found all over Australia.”

Feral cats pose particular risk to threatened species

In Australia feral cats have already contributed to the extinction of 16 mammals. Small and medium native animals have been declining catastrophically, and huge ferals are wreaking havoc in areas like Arnhem Land.

In this study researchers found records of feral cats hunting 28 IUCN Red Listed species, including the critically endangered woylie, mountain pygmy possum, and Christmas Island whiptail-skink.

Tim Doherty says that feral cats are clearly a key threat to these species.

Lack of rabbits means cats swtich to natives

“Another quite significant finding of our study was that across the continent, where cats eat [fewer] rabbits, they eat more native small mammals. We call this ‘prey-switching’,” he says.

This means that culling a local rabbit population may inadvertently lead to cats eating more of the native animals in that area.

“Land managers need to use a multi-species approach for pest management control, instead of targeting a single pest animal species, such as only rabbits, or only cats, or foxes,” Tim explains.

The research was published today in the Journal of Biogeography.