Feral cats cover more than 99.8% of Australia’s land area, including its islands.
New research, led by Dr Sarah Legge from The University of Queensland, brings together more than 40 of Australia’s top environmental scientists and evidence from nearly 100 separate studies across the country.
“Australia’s feral cat population fluctuates between 2.1 million when times are lean, up to 6.3 million when widespread rain results in plenty of available prey,” Dr Legge said.
In a worrying find, cat densities were the same both inside and outside conservation reserves, such as national parks.
“This shows that declaring protected areas is not enough on its own to safeguard native wildlife,” Dr Legge said.
“Our study highlights the scale and impact of feral cats and the urgent need to develop effective control methods, and to target our efforts in areas where control will produce the biggest gains.
“At the moment feral cats are undermining the efforts of conservation managers and threatened species recovery teams across Australia.”
Dr Legge said that, in addition to strategic cat control in bushland areas, there was a need to address feral cats in heavily urbanised areas where their population density could be 30 times higher than in natural environments.
As well as preying on threatened native species in and near to urban areas, urban feral cats can provide a source of further feral cats to bushland areas.
Australia’s Threatened Species commissioner Gregory Andrews said findings substantiated the need for a humane and effective cull.
“The density of feral cats in Australia is lower than it is in North America and Europe, and yet feral cats have been devastating for our wildlife,” Mr Andrews said.
“Aside from Antarctica, Australia is the only continent where animals evolved without cats, which is a reason our wildlife has been so vulnerable.
“Feral cats have already driven at least 20 Australian mammals to extinction, which makes investing in research like this important.
“This science reaffirms the importance of ambitious targets to cull feral cats, which I am implementing with the support of Minister for Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg under the Threatened Species Strategy.”
The research has been published in research journal Biological Conservation.
Note to editors: Photographs to accompany the story available via Dropbox. Photographers should be credited.