Australia is home to many wonderful initiatives aimed at eliminating cats, foxes and wild dogs from fenced-off areas or islands with the goal of reintroducing small native animals and birds to these areas as an attempt to prevent their extinction.
Millions of dollars are being raised to build and maintain these fences, to monitor outcomes and to better understand the ecology of threatened species. Arid Recovery is a one such conservation research initiative based in the South Australian outback and dedicated to the restoration of Australia’s arid lands.
Established in 1997, the program centres on a 123km² fenced reserve. Feral cats, rabbits and foxes have been eradicated from 60km² and this has provided an area of complete protection into which four species of locally extinct mammals have so far been reintroduced. A similar island program aimed at saving the bilby, brush-tailed bettong, or woylie, and the black-footed-rock wallaby is running successfully on Thistle Island and Wedge Island near Port Lincoln in SA.
We all know that cats are hunters and we marvel when we find a half-dead mouse left on the door mat by our moggie. But, indeed nothing has been more devastating for our native wildlife, our small mammals and birds, than the introduction of cats, foxes and dogs to Australia. These animals wreak havoc, no matter if they live as pets in the suburbs or range as ferals through farms and national parks.
Dissection of 203 feral cats and foxes by the Arid Recovery Group revealed 271 native animals in their stomachs, including 45 native mice, 216 reptiles and 10 birds. One small cat had nine threatened plains mice in its belly. By extrapolation, removal of 200 cats would have saved the lives of 370,475 native animals over the next 12 months.