Earlier this year, Australia made headlines when a study discovered that feral cats cover nearly 100 percent of the continent. Now, months later, the country has another feline-related issue on its hands.
A recent study released by the Biological Conservation journal found that both feral and domestic cats in Australia consume 377 million birds a year. Those numbers vary depending on weather patterns, but roughly up to 1 million birds are killed a day.
The study points out that nearly all of the birds killed by cats are native to Australia and that 338 different species have been killed, including 71 threatened species.
Lead researcher Professor John Woinarski of Charles Darwin University called the numbers "staggering," and he's not alone in his shock and concern for cats and birds alike.
Evan Quartermain, the head of programs for Humane Society International (HSI), told petMD that the distressing figure is a call for Australians to practice responsible pet ownership.
"Current government-funded control methods include baiting for cats with 1080-based poisons, which, [aside from] being incredibly inhumane, is certainly not in the best interests of cats or other non-target wildlife that can take them," he said, urging the Australian government to take the right measures in helping with this problem.
While there are no easy answers or quick fixes for this issue, Quartermain said that HSI advocates for more natural solutions, such as cat curfews and reducing controls on dingo populations, which "have been shown to lower cat abundance and limit their hunting movement."
Other animal rights groups have suggestions for the issue as well. "The only real solution to Australia's feral cat problem is to embark on a vast sterilization campaign," said Ashley Fruno, the associate director of campaigns for PETA. "The government needs to fund immuno-contraceptive solutions that will humanely and effectively decrease populations."
Quartermain said that they are not only concerned for the welfare of the country's cats, but also for the birds and Australian ecosystem because of this issue.
"Australia’s bird species are essential to the health of our forests, heathlands, grasslands, and everything in between," he said. "An incredible level of ecosystem services such as pollination, the spreading of seeds, reduction of agricultural and environmental pests, and nutrient turnover are provided by Australia’s diverse bird life."
Both Fruno and Quartermain agreed that this issue is a human-made one, due to pet owners who either allow their cats to roam outside or abandon them completely.
"The tragedy is that, as usual, it is we humans who are at fault and the animals (be they cats or the native species killed by cats) that suffer," Quartermain said. "The good news is responsible pet ownership is something all cat owners can practice, and some local governments around the country are introducing additional measures to either keep pet cats completely contained on people's properties or to at least ensure they aren’t out at night through curfews."
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