Feral house pets plague Australia
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Feral house pets plague Australia

Sometimes what’s cute and cuddly for some is a headache for others. For example, the importation of non-native species into Australia has severely impacted indigenous wildlife and communities that depend on the survival of the continent’s ecosystems. Yet in general, we all love bunnies, puppies and kittens – some of the most damaging non-native feral animals in Australia.

Among non-native or “invasive” animals, which have flourished in Australia to the detriment of native wildlife are the cane toad, red fox, deer and camel. European rabbits have famously impacted the country’s wild vegetation. Common cats and dogs are also sources of major problems

Dogs hunt just about anything, including lumbering koalas. They also interbreed with dingos, diluting the “purity” of the species. (While dingos were originally domesticated dogs from Asia, they have lived wild in Australia for thousands of years, and so are not exactly feral.) Domestic cats, on the other hand, are predators the likes of which native wildlife has never seen. In fact, cats have it so well in some parts of Australia they’re literally growing to enormous proportions. Feral cats found in the Northern Territory can weigh 12-15 kilos (26-33 pounds) and according to some reports even up to 20 kilos (45 pounds).

Research manager Georgia Vallance is quoted in an ABC Rural report:

We’ve been noticing more feral cats here over the last few years, and when these cats are culled by the rangers they perform a gut analysis, and the amount of animals inside these cats is staggering. One that was culled had the remains of two sugar gliders, a velvet gecko, a bird and some insects… so that’s just one cat, over one day. So the project the rangers are now doing is to try and establish the population of cats, what their range is and what their behaviour is. There’s been some research that cats will gravitate towards recently burnt country because the hunting is easier, and if that’s the case we’ll have to adapt our management regime.

The situation works both ways as well. Wild Australian dogs or dingos are devastating the wool industry in Queensland, with half a million sheep disappearing from 2008-2011. Surveys show that 18% of farmers either quit farming or changed their livestock focus due to dog raids; 10% feared for their family’s or worker’s safety; 20% witnessed distressing violent attacks on their livestock and 70% felt angry, distressed or anxious after such attacks took place.

From the Australian:

Marauding feral dogs – which live and breed in the wild from a mixture of dingo and escaped pet-dog progenitors – are believed to be in unprecedented numbers this year across rural Australia after three good seasons of rain and abundant prey.

Packs of dingos and feral dogs are also recently invading Australia’s cities and suburbs, prompting concerns about diseases and attacks. House pets have already been victims of the feral dogs.

While the problems caused by non-native species are real, we must remember that they are without exception actually caused by humans, the most invasive of all species. Seeing pictures of dozens of feral cats and dogs strung up in trees in rural Australia puts a cruel, vengeful spin on the story. Besides, it is also livestock of the sheep and cattle industries that intrudes on the habitat of native grazers such as the kangaroo.