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Catastrophe! Feral cats have invaded nearly 100% of Australia

Pretty deadly: Feral cats have contributed to the extinction of dozens of Australian mammal species.  (Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme)

The cat’s out of the bag and all over Australia. A new study finds that feral cats inhabit 99.8 percent of the continent’s landmass, including 80 percent of the land that makes up its islands.

Feral cats have long been recognized as a grave and widespread threat to vulnerable native wildlife particularly in Australia, where species found nowhere else in the world are ill-equipped to deal with these invasive and deadly predators. But despite conservationists’ efforts to track the felines’ environmental impacts, the number of cats roaming Australia has remained elusive.

To put a number to the catastrophic invasion, 40 environmental researchers compiled data from nearly 100 relevant studies, finding that Australia hosts at least 2.1 million feral cats when prey is less abundant; when prey are plentiful, that number jumps to as many as 6.3 million. [Photos: See the World Through a Cat’s Eyes]

European explorers first introduced cats to Australia in the 18th century. With no large predators and easy access to tasty small animals, the invasive felines swiftly adapted to the hospitable continent. Since then, feral cats have contributed to the extinction of close to 30 native mammal species such as the big-eared hopping mouse, the Eastern hare-wallaby and the pig-footed bandicoot and are instrumental in the current decline of many more, the study authors wrote.

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