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Cats, foxes take toll on native species

Cats and foxes are taking a heavy toll on Australian wildlife, killing 2.6 billion reptiles, birds and mammals each year, a study has found.

The predators’ severe and widespread impact is likely to continue without targeted management and control, Charles Darwin University says.

“Since foxes and cats were introduced to Australia by Europeans, they have played a major role in the declines and extinctions of many native animals,” ecologist John Woinarski said.

Despite this, most of the country does not have effective management practices in place.

Researchers found cats and foxes killed 697 million reptiles, 510 million birds and 1.4 billion mammals annually across the nation.

There are an estimated 1.7 million foxes in Australia that kill 350 species of Australian native mammals, reptiles and birds, including forest animals such as possums and gliders.

The carnivore is found across 80 per cent of the country and only absent from Tasmania and the monsoonal tropics.

“We found that fox densities and impacts are highest in temperate southern mainland Australia,” terrestrial ecologist Alyson Stobo-Wilson said.

“In temperate forests they collectively kill at least 1000 animals per square kilometre per year.”

Cats are more numerous and have a wider diet that includes more than 700 species of native mammals, reptiles and birds.

They hunt most of their prey around urban areas, where feral cats kill 5670 animals per square kilometre per year and pet cats take 13,100.

Professor Woinarski said the impact from predators would continue to be severe and widespread without targeted management.

“To be effective management programs need to be highly strategic as numbers of both of these predators can rebound quickly when management is not on-going or is piecemeal across a landscape,” he said.

A research team comprised of 23 scientists from 16 universities and conservation agencies examined more than 50,000 poo and stomach samples across the country.

The study is published in the conservation journal Diversity and Distributions.

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