Photo by Australian Wildlife Conservancy
The theme for World Wildlife Day 2018 is “Big cats: predators under threat”, bringing attention to these charismatic animals and highlighting the fact that their populations are declining at an alarming rate – over the past 100 years tiger populations have plummeted by 95%, and African lion populations dropped by 40% in just 20 years.
However here in Australia, we don’t have big cats – or at least, we shouldn’t. Instead, we’re seeing feral cats in the Australian outback grow to huge sizes – sometimes as much as 1m long. They pose a serious threat to our native bird species, with estimates suggesting they are killing over one million birds every day – amounting to 3-4% of our total bird population each year.
The overall population for Australia’s feral cats is thought to be somewhere between 2.1 and 6.3 million (depending on long-term environmental conditions), and they are significantly increasing the extinction risk faced by some bird species. In many locations, cats are part of a range of interacting threats faced by birds – fragmented bushland has been shown to increase both cat abundance and their hunting success.
The Federal Government’s threatened species strategy has highlighted the need to control feral cats more intensively, but we can also help protect the birds by planting more trees and reconnecting fragmented bushland to provide safer habitats for them to occupy.