Are Cats Making Australia’s Bushfire Tragedy Even Worse?

For many animal lovers, cats are adorable, fluffy creatures that make fantastic pets. However, not everyone agrees with this view that cats are amazing creatures. There are those who dislike cats and believe that these animals are terrible for the planet, and there is some scientific evidence to back up this opinion.

The Impact of Cats on Wildlife

According to the Washington Post, free-ranging domestic cats are responsible for killing approximately 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals each year. What is even more surprising is that these statistics relate only to the United States and do not include figures for elsewhere in the world. With these figures in mind, it is little wonder that Wired has described them as a scourge of the highest order. This claim was made in their article relating to the negative activities of cats in Australia during the ongoing wildfires disaster.

How Cats Are Making the Bushfire Tragedy in Australia Worse

According to their report, cats are adding to the problems caused by the ecological crisis in Australia. The fires that have ripped across the continent have left both humans and animals homeless. Scientists who have been tracking and monitoring various aspects of these events have now discovered that feral cats are scouring the burnt out parts of the country to hunt the surviving animals. The study even revealed the case of one feral cat that traveled for 19 miles to an area destroyed by fire.

Another study with findings published on Semantic Scholar involved the researching recording the hunting events of 13 feral cats as they prowled across the Australian savanna. The findings of this research showed that the average number of kills per cat was 7.2, even though this did not always eat their victims. This study also looked specifically at the areas that the cats had hunted and killed. They were most successful when they hunted in the areas left open by the fires, as they had a 70 percent success rate.

A further study showed that the time when the fire took place was also a significant factor in whether feral cats were attracted to the area or not. The findings of this study revealed that the cats tended to avoid areas that were burned out three or more months ago, while they were more attracted to areas that had been ravaged by fire within a few weeks. While the residents of many countries adore cats, Australia is not known as a nation of cat lovers. This is potentially because there are no feline species that are native to the country. This means that there are only around 100 cats per square kilometer in the areas with the highest cat populations. The fact that cats are not Australian natives also means that species that are native to this part of the world have not adapted their skills to avoid being hunted by them. This is one of the reasons that a large-scale cat eradication program has been launched by the Australian government in a bid to protect native species.

The Impact of Climate Change on Australia

Bush fires that are now ravaging the country are being predominantly blamed on climate changes that are causing hotter, drier landscapes. In the past, Australian bushfires occur only at certain times of the year, and most did not cause considerable damage. Now, the damage is much more significant as instead of small fires being dotted around the country, huge fires covering vast areas of land are now taking place. Due to the scale of the fires, they are wiping out whole ecosystems. Even the rainforests are no longer safe from the bushfires.

The statistics are evidence of how the situation has worsened over the last few decades. There are some parts of Australia that would experience a bush fire only once every 50 to 100 years in the past. In the last two decades, many of these areas have suffered multiple bushfires. Usually, there is enough time for the land to recover between the fires, but this is no longer the case as another fire strikes before this recovery can take place. David Lindenmayer, an ecologist for the Australian National University, has described has this poses a big risk to the Australian natural environment. It is even possible that the system in some areas could collapse entirely leaving a completely different type of environment to take its place.

In the case of the fires that have taken place at the end of 2019 and continued into 2020, it is impossible to tell what the extent of the damage is until the fires are over. It is only then that the scientists can go and study the landscapes to assess the damage and how it will impact on the environment in the future.

Predators Taking Advantage of Bushfires

Although feral cats are adding to the death toll in animals following the fire, they are not the only opportunist animals that have taken advantage of the current situation. Surprisingly, birds of prey are also using this as an opportunity to make hunting their prey easier, says Science Alert. A study into the behavior of birds during the fires was conducted that revealed surprising results. The researchers were shocked to realize that some birds of prey were picking up burning sticks and then dropping them as a method of starting a smaller fire. In turn, this would flush out their prey and simplified their hunting process. The same study revealed that the risk of becoming prey increased twenty times after a bushfire.

Strategies to Resolve the Problems

Conservation biologists are currently putting short-term strategies in place to rescue animals that are trapped in areas where food and water are scarce or non-existent. One strategy that has been used is to airdrop vegetables for the omnivores and herbivores that are suffering due to the lack of plantation. Another strategy they have put in place is to control feral predators, such as cats and foxes, by trapping or hunting them. While these strategies may help in the short-term, it is likely that the bushfires will have serious long-term implications for Australia’s wildlife.

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