We know cats can be ruthless when it comes to their prey, but it turns out they are killing more than 1.5 billion Australian native animals a year.
A new book co-authored by a Charles Darwin University environmental scientist covers key findings from hundreds of studies about cats across Australia.
It delves into the origins, spread and ecology of cats; the impacts of feral and pet cats on Australian wildlife and the options us humans have to manage out of control cats taking a toll on biodiversity.
Co-author, CDU Professor John Woinarski investigated one of Australia's most complex and controversial conservation management dilemmas: what to do when a loved one turns bad?
"Cats tamed humans about 4000 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," Professor Woinarski said.
"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."
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With almost four million pet cats in Australia, the authors are hoping to send a clear message to owners and garner more people to the conservation effort.
"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," Professor Woinarski said.
"Cats aren't an effective control on introduced pest animals."
Co-author Sarah Legge, from the Australian National University said people tended to have deep and conflicting opinions about cats, but there was no denying they were a catastrophic problem for Australian wildlife.
"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," Professor Legge said.
"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 cat kills fewer animals on average than a feral cat in the bush, in urban areas the density of cats is much higher (more than 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."
The University of Sydney's Professor Chris Dickman said that each day cats killed more than 3.1 million mammals, 1.8 million reptiles and 1.3 million birds in Australia.
"Many of Australia's native species cannot withstand these high levels of predation and will become increasingly at risk of extinction unless the problem of cats in Australia is solved," said.
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