Roaming pet cats have “devastating” impacts on native wildlife populations all across Australia, researchers have found.
For the first time, scientists have mapped the impact pet felines have on reptiles, birds and small mammals at a national scale.
The ‘alarming’ research by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program has found that pet cats kill more than 390m animals a year.
University of Queensland wildlife ecologist and project lead Professor Sarah Legge said the research collated information from more than 60 studies across Australia and had alarming results.
“On average each roaming pet cat kills 40 native reptiles, 38 native birds and 32 native mammals per year,” she said.
It is well known that feral cats destroy with 20 mammal species pushed to extinction from predation, but Prof Legge says roaming pet cats are more harmful to wildlife than their feral counterparts.
“A roaming pet cat kills 30 to 50 times more native animals than a feral cat in the bush,” Prof Legge said.
Although pet cats kill wildlife at a lower rate, their high density result in more harm to native wildlife population, she says.
Murdoch University entomologist Professor Mike Calver says the impacts of pet cats destroying wildlife is problematic in Western Australia.
“Last year, a single pet cat was responsible for the destruction of a new breeding colony of endangered fairy terns in Mandurah,” he said.
Prof Calver says that with 67 per cent of Perth cat owners admitting to owning a cat that was killed on the road, allowing pet cats to roam is also risky for the pets.
Indoor cats live longer and healthier cats because they are less likely to contract diseases and less likely to get into cat fights, he says.
“Fundamentally, we don’t allow our animals to roam so why is it cruel to keep a cat on your property all the time,” he said.
The best thing to do for the health and safety of pet cats and for the protection of native wildlife is to restrict pet cats to personal properties, Prof Calver says.
However, he says that brightly coloured collars and bells can be attached to a cat’s collar to reduce hunting behaviour.