They may look adorable and fuzzy, but feral cats are now at war with Australia. The country’s government intends to cull over two million untamed cats over the next year, cutting their numbers from upward of six million down to four million. As an invasive species, these cats are eliminating many species in Australia at an alarming rate through hunting.
While killing such a large number of feral cats may seem excessively cruel, there are reasons why Australia is culling the population. These free-ranging cats were brought to the continent in the 1600s and now cover over 99 percent of the country. Unlike their domestic counterparts, feral cats survive by hunting in the wild. In fact, feral cats are extremely good at hunting small critters. According to CNN, experts estimate that feral cats have contributed to the wipe out of 20 different mammals over the past 300 years. Given that many of the country’s native species are not found anywhere else on the planet, this is a major problem.
What kind of animals are part of a feral cat’s diet? Conservationists estimate that, given their large population numbers, cats kill around 1.7 million reptiles every day in Australia. They also target birds, killing over a million on a typical day. Other animals hunted by feral cats include the brush-tailed rabbit-rat and the golden bandicoot, both of which are classified as vulnerable by the government.
“We are not culling cats for the sake of it, we are not doing so because we hate cats,” Gregory Andrews, who works as the national commissioner of threatened species, explained. “We have got to make choices to save animals that we love, and who define us as a nation.”
To prevent these species from going extinct, Australia has set aside five million dollars to pay groups that will help cull feral cat populations. The initiative, however, has faced a lot of criticism from activists and conservationists. Most critics of the plan conceded that feral cats are a problem but argue that large-scale culling is not the answer. Instead, groups are pushing for more accurate assessments on population numbers and want the government to focus on feral cats that live in areas with threatened animals.
Image via Daniel Ramirez