Why are there no native cats in Australia?

Eighty-five million years ago, Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand separated from the major land mass called Gondwanaland. About 200 million years ago Australia was attached to Antarctica. 85 million years ago was well before the beginnings of the evolution of the cat. It is believed that around 60 million years ago there were primitive carnivores called Miacids. These were the precursor animals to cats.

Gondwanaland showing position of Australia relative to Antartica. Image: Quora.com
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In the regions of Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand animal evolution was isolated from the rest of the world. No indigenous mammals had arrived in New Zealand. Although marsupial carnivores filled the void left by what could have been the cat in Australia.

There is a particular marsupial which we can mention namely the tiger cat, Dasyurus maculatus. It became one of Tasmania’s and eastern Australia’s small native predators.

Whereas the cat is a mammal giving birth to offspring, marsupials give birth to young which develop fully in a pouch in their mother’s body.

That, is the answer. If the cat had evolved on that part of Gondwanaland which is now Australia a hundred million years ago, the continent of Australia today would have their very own native cat.

And if that lucky or unlucky event had occurred (depending on your taste in wild animals) it is likely that Australians today, particularly those in authority, would have a different perspective about feral cats.

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And it is possible that the approximate 2 million feral cats which now inhabit Australia, which so annoy Australians because they prey on small native mammalian species, might not have become so prolific because Australia’s native cat might have been larger than the feral cat. It might have preyed upon feral cats, keeping down numbers. This is pure speculation but it’s quite nice to think what might have happened if evolution had taken a different course.

Feral cat Australia
Feral cat Australia. Pic in public domain.

Postscript: Australia is still moving today thanks to tectonic activity which causes continents to constantly move. Continents rest on massive slabs of rock called tectonic plates which are always moving and interacting. The process is called plate tectonics. National Geographic tells me that the Australian continent has shifted by 4.9 feet since the last adjustment was made to GPS coordinates in 1994 as reported by the New York Times. The plate that Australia sits on is moving at about 2.7 inches a year northward and with a slight clockwise rotation.

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