Cats (Felis catus) are one of the primary causes of declines and extinctions of Australian native mammals and birds in the last 200 years. They have been implicated in the extinction of several species of small mammals (mostly hopping-mice and other native rodents) from arid Australia in the nineteenth century prior to the spread of foxes and rabbits. They have been linked to numerous extinctions of mammals and birds from off-shore islands, including species of hare-wallaby, bettong, dasyurid, a bandicoot and several species of birds from several islands off Western Australia, and the extinction of brush-tailed bettong from St Francis Island off South Australia. Cats possibly caused regional extinctions of up to 13 species of ground-dwelling mammals and contributed to regional extinctions of a suite of ground-nesting and ground-foraging birds from western NSW.
Cats have caused or contributed to the failure of numerous attempts to reintroduce threatened native fauna into areas of their former range. For example, cats have been linked to the failed reintroduction of the rufous hare-wallaby in central Australia, of rufous hare-wallaby, banded hare-wallaby, western barred bandicoot and brush-tailed bettong from Western Australia’s Peron Peninsula and of burrowing bettong in the Gibson Desert. Many of these failures have occurred in spite of an ongoing programme of intensive fox control. Similarly, cats were the likely cause for the failure of a reintroduction of brush-tailed bettong into Yathong Nature Reserve in central NSW, where fox control has been maintained since the mid-1990s.
Cats are widespread across mainland Australia, Tasmania and on many off-shore islands and occur in all environments. They remain a significant threat to the survival of a broad suite of native fauna, especially small mammals and ground-nesting birds in open habitats (most of mainland Australia) and to a broader range of fauna on Australia’s off-shore islands. Cats persist in extremely high densities in urban and peri-urban areas (relative to naturally-regulated predator-prey relationships) and hence they pose a significant threat to the survival of native fauna in remnant bushland.
Page last updated: 04 August 2015