By The Associated Press, The New York Times, February 9, 2015
|There are an estimated 15 million feral cats in Australia|
Australia’s mammals are going extinct at an unusually high rate, and a new study says the main culprits are cats and foxes brought to the continent by European settlers. The study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, shows that more than 10 percent of the land mammal species endemic to Australia have been wiped out since European settlement began in 1788. That rate has long been a source of puzzlement since sparsely populated Australia would seem to be a paradisiacal haven for animals. But the researchers found that much of the species’ decline coincided with the introduction of two animals: the feral cat, which sailors brought aboard ships to keep rats at bay, and red foxes, brought for hunting. As it turned out, both species hunted a little too well and they spread rapidly. “We knew it was bad, but I think our tallies were much worse than previously thought,” said one of the study’s authors, Prof. John Woinarski of Charles Darwin University.