Categories: Australia

Australia has 1.92 million feral cats, a tiny fraction of the number in the USA

A new study concluded that there are 1.92 million feral cats in Australia or 1 per 4 square kilometres. Some Australian experts and doom-mongers had estimated 20 million. They were wrong. The researchers analysed 100 studies to come to their conclusion.

There are two interesting observations. There are an estimated 50 million feral cats in the USA. I wonder if this figure is equally misconceived? It could be. They say there are 7 million feral cats in the UK but I never see any.

Australian Flag

If the US figure is correct the number of feral cats in Australia is 3.8 percent of the number in the USA. A tiny fraction despite the fact that Australia is almost as large as America. Yet in Australia they complain bitterly that feral cats are a massive environmental problem killing billions of individual animals of native species while in the USA people just go about the business of controlling feral cats with volunteer TNR programs. No drama. The contrast in attitude is stark.

One argument is that the wild animals of Australia are not attuned to being defensive towards cats because cats did not evolve on the continent. This makes the native species of Australia vulnerable to the cat. I see that argument and it has some merit but I do believe that the Australian authorities have overblown the feral cat threat to try and justify mass inhumane killing which incidentally has been rejected by all decent minded Australians and internationally.

It is said that TNR is out of the question on the Australian continent because the Aussie feral cat is very hard to trap because they only go for moving food (prey). Also at one feral at per square kilometre their density is very thin making TNR impractical. It also makes hunting feral cats difficult, thank God.

Fortunately some more sensible proposals are emerging from Australia in dealing with the feral cat. For example, creating dense habitat for small marsupials so that they have places to go to escape cats.

Another is to increase the number of dingoes but I don’t like this one. But where there are dingoes there are less cats.

Although the feral cat is thinly spread across Australia, the study found that they occupied 99.8% of the country. The cat was introduced by humans when arriving on ships and deliberately sent into the wild to catch mice. It is a man-made problem.

Notes:

  1. An article in the online Guardian provides conflicting information because it states that the study found there were between 2.1 million and 6.3 million feral cats but when you divide four into the area of Australia in square kilometres the figure is 1.92 million.
  2. The study is published in the journal of Biological Conservation.



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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • I've read and thought about Australia's supposed problem since they started beating the war drum about it (2015?). I also suspect it's been overblown. Even with this, if the cats are scarce enough that trapping and hunting won't get much, then maybe they aren't such the infestation they claim. If you cast a net and don't catch much fish, then there aren't too many fish. I know it's more complicated than that, as mentioned, but I think something else is afoot. I agree that the U.S. government isn't as convinced that we have such a problem, but I've had neighbors complain that my cats "go after" the birds, to which I say "so what?". They don't catch much (I've watched them and found the few birds that were unlucky, maybe a dozen over a period of 19 years). And that's anywhere from 4 to 14 of my cats at a time. I calculated the "cat hours" on that per bird kill to be so astronomical that it just doesn't matter. In fact the birds probably benefit from the occasional chase, and lead to generations of birds that are better at avoiding the cats. I think when private groups (in this case ornithologists), contractors and government try to capitalize on something, they bend science to make their case.

    • if the cats are scarce enough that trapping and hunting won’t get much, then maybe they aren’t such the infestation they claim.

      Absolutely. This new research will curtail the cat haters calls for mass extermination.

      I am very suspicious of 'estimated' figures for feral cats. I am also very suspicious of estimates for birds killed by cats. These estimates are often quite inaccurate in my view based on my reading around the subject. I suspect that there are fewer feral cats in the USA than believed and their impact on birds is also less than estimated.

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