The payment for colonization two centuries later – wild cats flooded 99% of the continent and massively destroy mammals and birds.Homeless cats in the Australian side street. Photos The Washington Post
At the end of May 2018, Australia completed the construction of the longest fence of millions of feral cats that spread over almost the entire country in two centuries. They hunt small mammals and birds, destroying or endangering the extinction of more than two dozen rare species.
According to the government’s idea, the fence will protect endangered species from predators until the population is restored. However, this does not solve the problem of the growing number of feral cats that have long acquired the reputation of “pests”, attacking people and their pets.
The Dangers of Feral Cats
In Australia, feral cats are a unique phenomenon: unlike other predators, they have adapted to life in any area, including forests and deserts. They are difficult to notice in thickets, it is difficult to catch or lure, because they like to eat another living victim. The first feline came to Australia in the late 1850s on European ships, where they were taken to fight mice.
The settlers realized that on the continent there lived a huge number of small mammals threatening food supplies, after which twice as many cats started arriving in Australia. Predators hastened to hunt for local mammals – rodents have never encountered this kind of cat, so they often died. Without encountering resistance, predators quickly multiplied, in addition to rodents attacking fish, birds, lizards, amphibians and insects.
At times, feral individuals attack their domestic fellows and their masters. According to the local farmer Adam Whitehouse (Adam Whitehouse), when he tried to get the pet out of the predator, he clung to claws and teeth in the man’s leg, and then left deep abrasions and bites on his hand. As the man recalls, in size, the individual resembled a panther rather than a cat. Researchers confirm that wild species really grow big, and their average weight is seven kilograms.
“Extermination for good”
The extinction of mammals is a sick subject for Australia. Since the formation of the first settlements on the continent, approximately 30 unique species of animals have died out, whereas in the same North America only one species of mammal has disappeared. Since the main role in this situation was played by cats killing several million different individuals per day, the authorities and activists could not ignore what was happening.
The government’s main plan to reduce the population of feral cats is the partial extermination of these individuals. In 2015, the authorities proposed to catch and lull animals for five years, so that by 2020 their number fell by two million. “Our native species simply do not know how to co-exist with feral cats. They did not develop alongside such predators, ” explained Gregory Andrews, a representative of the Endangered Species Commission of Australia.
Feral cats are not the only animals whose population was offered to cut artificially. In May 2015, the government of southeastern Victoria announced the development of a plan for the partial destruction of koalas. Due to a sharp increase in the population, the leaves of the stick-shaped eucalyptus, which they eat, ceased to suffice.
With the help of a reduction in the number of local leaders hoped to prevent a recurrence of the crisis of 2013, when fifteen hundred koalas died of starvation. The proposal was met with protests, so the experiment was never conducted. Instead, state authorities with overpopulation of koalas choose slow, but more humane ways to reduce the population – sterilizing or transporting koalas to other regions.
The population of feral cats is heavily reduced by classical means. They are difficult and time-consuming to catch for sterilization, because, unlike koalas, they mate more often and give more offspring. Moreover, koalas or kangaroos, whose population is also sometimes artificially regulated, live in certain regions, and cats have spread throughout the continent. The authorities and activists simply do not have enough people to catch so many individuals.
The position of forces can be changed by CRISPR technology . It allows you to find the gene in the DNA, remove it or correct it, which can lead to a partial or complete mutation. Specialists of the State Association of Scientific and Applied Research and the non-profit organization Wildlife Conservation of Australia believe that with the help of this technology, it is possible to modify the genes of feral cats and reduce their population.
How it should work: scientists catch and modify the genes of wild representatives so that they are born only male individuals, and then released at will to relatives. After some time, the number of “original” animals will be reduced to a minimum, and the crisis will end. While this plan has two main problems: there is a risk that “spy cats” will mate with domestic cats or seriously mutate. This leads to the second problem: the state is not yet ready to take the risk and give the right to full-scale tests.
Executive Director of Wildlife Conservation of Australia Attikus Fleming believesthat by 2020 this zone will become the most “free territory” from feral cats. Specialist believes that with this Australia finally withdraw from itself the status of a “global center of extinction of mammals.”
We have already tried many things. Improved bait, improved traps and, in the long run, technology such as changing genes. But at the moment there is no panacea and no guarantees that it will appear. Therefore, now the appearance of such free territories is critically necessary.
Once you get rid of foxes and cats, local species of mammals will breed like rabbits. This is the essence of the reserve: although a fence has been established around it, this has been done to restore natural conditions. Ironically, it is the territory outside the fences that can not be called original, as it is filled with cats and foxes.