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Australia Builds World’s Largest Cat-Proof Fence to Protect Threatened Species

The country’s feral cats have been linked to the extinction of 20 species

A feral cat photographed by the founder of The Feral Life Cat Blog. (Chriss Haight Pagani/Flickr CC)
smithsonian.com

Hard though it may be for cat lovers to accept, our feline friends can be utter menaces to the environment. Outdoor pet cats are wreaking havoc on bird populations and feral cats are an even bigger problem. Research suggests that the purring predators have played a significant role in driving 63 species of birds, mammals and reptiles to extinction.

As the Agence France-Presse reports, Australia has come up with an interesting way to keep feral cats away from threatened wildlife. The country has erected a 27-mile cat-proof fence—the largest one in the world—to create 23,200 acres of feline-free territory.

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) finished building the electrified fence this month. According to the BBC, the new barricade borders the Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in central Australia.

Cats and other feral animals have been removed from the protected area, and starting in 2019, the AWC plans to reintroduce species that have been decimated by wild cats, among them small marsupials like the bilby, the western quoll, the mala and the numbat.

According to the AFP, cats were first brought to Australia by British settlers in the 1700s. The fluffy critters were meant to be pets, but some became wild and have since run amok. Today, feral cats can be found in 99.8 percent of the country; there may be as many as 6.3 million of them across Australia.

Feral cats have been linked to the extinction of 20 species in Australia, including the lesser bilby and the desert bandicoot. Climate change and habitat destruction are likely also playing a role in the decline of Australia’s endangered animals, but cats pose an acute threat because they actively hunt threatened species. Unfortunately, as AWC chief Attius Fleming tells the AFP, Australia “does not have an effective strategy for controlling cats.”

Previous plans have indeed been less than ideal. In 2015, the Australian government announced that it would cull two million feral cats by 2020, which angered animal rights activists. In January of last year, it emerged that park staff in the state of Victoria had been opting for an alternative method: luring the cats into traps using pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken. (They also used taxpayer-funded credit cards to pay for the grub.)

In 2020, the AWC plans to expand the new fence to cover an area of nearly 250,000 acres. Officials hope this will prove to be an effective way of safeguarding Australia’s threatened animals from ravenous cats—without having to drop $260 on popcorn chicken.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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