Last updated July 11, 2018 at 2:24 pm
Felines feast on a quarter of all lizard species.
Cats kill 1.8 million reptiles every day, a new study published in Wildlife Research finds.
“On average each feral cat kills 225 reptiles per year, with the highest toll in inland Australia,” said Lead researcher from Charles Darwin University Professor John Woinarski.
“Some cats eat staggering numbers of reptiles. We found many examples of single cats bingeing on lizards, with a record of 40 individual lizards in a single cat stomach.”
Pet cats aren’t off the hook either, with pets killing an estimated 53 million reptiles a year, bringing the total to a staggering 649 million killed by all cats, 1.8 million per day.
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That haul includes 250 different types of reptiles including from small skinks and lizards up to Western Brown Snakes and Inland Taipans.
Around a quarter of all Australia’s lizard species have been found to be eaten by cats, including 11 threatened species like the Christmas Island forest skink and great desert skink.
“Comparing our findings with research from overseas we found that feral cats eat more reptiles in Australia than they do in the US or Europe,” he said. “This could be because we have more abundant reptiles in Australia.”
What should a responsible cat owner do?
Cat owners can reduce the impact their furry friends have on the local wildlife by keeping them indoors.
“The best advice is to stop your cat roaming outside” says Woinarski. “This has the added benefit of providing your cat with a longer and healthier life – it won’t be run over by a car or get into fights with other cats or dogs.”
Managing feral cats
Even if we could wave a magic wand and get rid of all pet cats in Australia overnight, the feral population is still enormous, with an estimated population fluctuating between 2.1 and 6.3 million.
“Feral cats can breed rapidly and successfully, they don’t need to be replenished from stray or pet cats” says Woinarski.
Targeted, annual baiting can reduce the number of feral cats in specific locations, but new cats just reinvade from surrounding areas. If you can remove cats from an island, the chance of them coming back is low, and progress has been made in this area. There are 20 islands from which cats have been eradicated.
Another strategy is to erect cat and fox proof fences, and put the threatened species in the fenced area. While there’s been great success at places like Roxby Down’s Arid Recovery Centre, this is an expensive process that can only protect tiny parcels of area.
Future technologies such as gene drives have been suggested as a management strategy, with the potential to control the population through the release of only a few modified individuals.
“Gene modification could help, but that’s decades away I think, and a lot of community consultation would need to happen before that could be approved.”
If you’ve seen a feral cat, you can snap a picture and submit it through the FeralCatScan app, set up by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions and the Australian Government Department of the Environment to help humanely manage the population.