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Cat-Mageddon: Why Is Australia Getting Rid Of Millions Of Cats By 2020?

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The population of feral cats in Australia has skyrocketed out of control, prompting the government to come up with plans to eliminate nearly 2 million of these felines by 2020.

Australia's bid to wage war against cats has everything to do with efforts to preserve dozens of its native species that authorities say face extinction due to the predatory behavior of the cats, among them the golden bandicoot, the numbat and the mountain pygmy-possum.

The predatory instincts of the feral cats make them efficient hunting machines and their hunting prowess is behind the disappearance of many native species in Australia.

The exploding population of the felines has drastically affected the ecosystem, causing the loss of 29 native species and placing a number of others under threats of disappearing.

"Of the 29 mammals that we've lost to extinction, feral cats are implicated in 28 out of those 29 extinctions, and over 120 Australian animals are at risk of extinction from feral cats," said Australia's first Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews. "It's very important to emphasise, too, that we don't hate cats. We just can't tolerate the damage that they're doing anymore to our wildlife."

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt declared a war on feral cats and unveiled a five-year plan on July 16 to protect the native mammal and bird populations of Australia.

The plan involves establishing 10 new feral cat-free enclosures, with $750,000 spent, creating one of the largest fenced habitat areas in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, which touches the Timor Sea on the north and covers the center and central northern regions. Cats also will be targeted on another 10 million hectares, or about 25 million acres, of open landscape. The government has set aside $6.6 million to help preserve native species, with the majority of the money focused on cat eradication. States and territories have likewise agreed to consider the feral cat as a harmful pest, which means that the animal will be targeted through shooting, poisoning and baiting.

The plan was a welcome news to environmental groups, albeit some weren't satisfied with the level of funding and strategies involved.

"This strategy's four actions areas - tackling feral cats, providing safe havens for species at risk, improving habitat and intervening to avert extinctions - are commendable," said Kelly O'Shanassy, Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive. "The strategy does fall significantly short in a number of areas. Threatened species recovery work is run on the smell of an oily rag. New money announced today is welcome, but funding remains inadequate. We urge the government to commit more."

The animals were introduced by European settlers about 200 years ago and spread rapidly across Australia and New Zealand. The 20 million cats in Australia are estimated to kill about 75 million native animals per day.  

Photo: Scott Granneman | Flickr

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