Cats and foxes kill 2.6 billion animals a year in Australia | Smart Messages

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A wild fox in Australia.
Lea Scaddan via Getty Images

Cats and foxes are invasive and preliferive predators in Australia, devastating populations of small animals and hunting others to extinction. A new study published in Diversity and Distributions just shows many animals they kill every year.

Researchers found that cats and foxes wipe out 697 million reptiles, 510 million birds and 1.4 billion small animals in Australia every year. In all, about 2.6 billion introduced and domestic small animals are killed by these two predators alone. Foxes alone kill about 300 million native animals.

“This massive death toll is one of the main reasons Australia’s biodiversity is declining,” the authors write in an article in The conversation. “Cats and foxes, for example, played a large role in the extinction of most of Australia’s 34 mammals, including the kangaroo, which quickly declined when foxes reached their region.”

The researchers also mapped how many and where these animals live in Australia, noting that about 1.7 million foxes live on the continent, covering about 80 percent of the mainland. About 6.6 million wild and domestic cats live in Australia, covering about 99.9 percent, according to the study.

Foxes tend to eat larger prey and have a greater impact on kangaroos, wallabies and potoroos. Cats, on the other hand, eat larger amounts of smaller animals, killing about five times as many reptiles, two and a half times as many birds, and twice as many mammals as foxes The conversation.

“They have different size preferences that overlap, and the poor guys in the middle get a double whammy,” study co-author Sarah Legge, a wildlife ecologist at the Australian National University, told Nick Kilvert of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

An infographic showing how many animals cats and foxes kill

Foxes and wild cats together kill 2.6 billion animals every year.

Stobo-Wilson et al., Diversity and Distributions, 2022 via The conversation

Foxes were released into the wild in Victoria for sport hunting from 1845, per The conversation. Their population skyrocketed after the introduction of rabbits and hares in the 19th century, and these animals continue to drive fox numbers today. Colonizers also brought cats to the continent.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for controlling cat and fox populations, keeping domestic cats away from wild animals is one approach, says University of Adelaide ecologist John Read, who was not involved in this study ABC.

“Management of domestic cats is a big problem,” he tells the publication. “Keeping cats helps prevent these environmental and health impacts and discourages breeding more feral cats.

According to the authors, this is the first study to quantify the impact of foxes on wildlife in Australia.

“We already had good information about the effects of the cats on other species. This research has given us a clearer picture of the impacts of both species nationally and in diverse and more remote settings,” says lead author Alyson Stobo-Wilson, a community ecologist at Charles Darwin University, in a statement.

The authors conclude that the country needs better management of cats and foxes, as well as better protection and habitat restoration for native animals.

“Australia needs to dramatically increase management of both predators to give native wildlife a chance and help prevent future extinctions,” they write The conversation.

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