Feral cats in Australia push endangered species to the brink of extinction

Cats are causing trouble again and this time they’ve pushed an endangered species to the brink of extinction.

A study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that feral cats posed a threat to the small remaining population of Kangaroo Island dunnarts.  

The cute, mouse-like animal lives on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia and is one of the rarest marsupials around.

Unlike koalas, opossums or kangaroos, the Kangaroo Island dunnart is one of Australia’s lesser-known marsupials.

Experts estimate that only 500 of these creatures still exist and now that number is being threatened by feral cats.

The IUCN Red List, a catalogue of threatened species, lists the island dunnart as critically endangered. That’s only one step short of being extinct in the wild.

Severe bushfires recently burnt more than 98% of the dunnart’s known habitat that was already under pressure from fragmentation. 

After the fires, scientists found evidence of eight individual dunnarts in the digestive tract of seven feral cats, demonstrating the need for immediate risk management efforts after large-scale unpredictable events like bushfires.

For the study, researchers examined the stomachs and digestive tracts of 86 feral cats collected from conservation areas on the island between February and August 2020.

Seven of those cats were found to have the remains of eight different Kangaroo Island dunnarts in their systems.

‘Our results confirm for the first time that feral cats do predate on KI dunnart and that they were efficient hunters of this species directly after the fire,’ the research team reported.

In 2020, nearly 3 billion animals were killed or displaced in Australia’s wildfires.

This year, Koalas were officially designated as an endangered species and their cousin the island dunnart could soon join them if the problem of feral cats is not solved.

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