Australia plans to kill two million free-roaming feral cats across the country by 2020 in an effort to defend several native species from potential extinction.
Cats were first introduced to Australia by European settlers in the 17th century. In the late 1800s, cats were intentionally released with the hopes they would help control rabbits, rats and mice. The cat population has since skyrocketed to cover an estimated 99.8% of the country, according to The Guardian.
The invasive species, unless domesticated, often hunts many native animals in order to survive. According to Charles Darwin University, the feral cat population is believed to kill more than 1 million of Australia’s wild birds, 45% of which are unique to the country and found nowhere else on earth.
A single feral cat kills an average of 1,000 animals native to Australia each year, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. While most of their prey are smaller animals such as crickets, lizards and mice, some pursue larger animals. Rangers in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands captured a feral cat and found a rock-wallaby weighing 11 pounds in its stomach in 2017.
“[Feral cats] are the single biggest threat to our native animals and have already directly driven into extinction 20 out of 30 mammals,” National Commissioner of Threatened Species Gregory Andrews told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Some areas of Australia are offering rewards for killing feral cats, with Queensland rewarding $7 for each cat scalp. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has spoken out against this reward system.
“Feral cats who are shot or poisoned suffer in the same way and feel the same pain that our companion feline friends would,” PETA Associate Director of Campaigns Ashley Fruno said.
Australians who hunt feral cats typically use a poison called sodium fluoroacetate, sometimes called 1080. The Queensland Banana Shire Council calls 1080 the “most efficient, humane and species-specific pesticides,” and it is often used on feral cats as well as other animals such as foxes.
Some cat hunters use poisoned sausages to kill feral cats. According to The New York Times, a man sometimes referred to as “Dr. Death,” creates the sausages in a factory south of Perth. The poisoned treats are a combination of kangaroo meat, chicken fat, herbs and 1080.
“We are not culling cats for the sake of it,” Andrews told The Sydney Morning Herald. “We are not doing so because we hate cats. We have to make choices to save animals that we love and who define us as a nation like the bilby, the warru [black-footed rock-wallaby] and the night parrot.”