Feral cats in Northern Australia are growing enormous – more than three feet long – and consuming much of the indigenous wildlife.
Domestic cats arrived in Australia and New Zealand with European settlers. Many of them wandered off into the wild, known as the bush, and have been adapting to their new territory. The big problem is that other kinds of animals have not been adapting to the cats. They have no defenses and, basically, it’s a massacre.
In the Northern Territory’s Arnhem Land, where the situation is seriously out of control, the federal government is launching a program to track the cats and try to kill them.
“We’ve been noticing more feral cats here over the last few years,” Research Manager Georgia Vallance told the Australia Broadcasting Company (ABC). “When these cats are culled by the rangers they perform a gut analysis, and the amount of animals inside these cats is staggering.”
In the previous 24 hours, one such kitty had consumed two sugar gliders, a velvet gecko, a bird and lots of insects.In the 24 hours before being killed, one such kitty had consumed at least two sugar gliders, a velvet gecko, a bird and lots of insects.
“All we know is our birds and animals are declining,” Ranger Chairman Dean Yirbarbuk said.
The new plan is to attach GPS collars to various cats to see where they go and how they’re breeding, and then, using dogs to drive the cats up trees, to catch as many as possible … and kill them.
Will this plan work? Culling feral cats has been remarkably unsuccessful wherever it’s been tried. The cats just breed faster and fill the spaces left by the colonies that have been destroyed.
On the other hand, well-managed trap/neuter/return programs gradually reduce the populations, and no one gets killed.
But in Australia, we’re not talking about well-managed, local, neighborhood feral cat colonies; we’re talking about what’s become essentially a new species of wildlife, fully integrated into the bush.
It’s Australia’s version of, say, the Burmese pythons who were dumped in the Florida Everglades by totally irresponsible people and have exploded in numbers and are eating their way through the local wildlife. And an attempt to have sport hunters kill as many pythons as possible, earlier this year, proved remarkably unsuccessful. The same will likely be the case with the Northern Territory’s feral cats.
Basically, it’s a “fait accompli” – the damage has been done, and nature will take its course. Sooner or later, a new balance will be established, but most likely without many of the animals who were there when humans first started letting their “pets” loose in the bush.