Horrifying Aussie phenomena killing 2.6 billion creatures a year

Cats and foxes are killing over 2.6 billion creatures a year in Australia, a disturbing new scientific study claims.

Slaughtered at a rate of roughly 1.4 billion a year, mammals were predated at the highest rate, researchers led by a team at Charles Darwin University have concluded.

Next on the list were reptiles at 697 million, followed by birds at 510 million.

Densities of foxes and cats were measured across hundreds of locations. Source: Getty (File)
Densities of foxes and cats were measured across hundreds of locations. Source: Getty (File)

The estimate, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, was created using data from more than 50,000 faecal and stomach samples combined with hundreds of density surveys taken across Australia.

Dr Alyson Stobo-Wilson said while the impact of cats was well studied, the research now gives a “clearer picture” of the devastation caused by foxes as well.

“We found that fox densities and impacts are highest in temperate southern mainland Australia. In temperate forests they collectively kill at least 1000 animals per square kilometre per year,” she said.

What animals are cats and foxes eating?

The research was particularly detailed when it came to understanding fox diets.

While it's believed they likely eat frogs in small numbers, researchers were unable to include them in the data as once digested they become difficult to study.

Native animals including rodents, possums, gliders and macropods were found to be commonly consumed, along with feral creatures like rabbits, hares, rats, mice and livestock.

Bandicoots, bilbies, bats, monotremes, moles, numbats, cats and an odd assortment of other species made up less than 30 per cent of their diet.

A numbat was seen fleeing into the fire zone. Source: Supplied
Numbats were found to be preyed upon by foxes, but not in as large numbers as foxes. Source: Supplied

Analysis of annual cat kills was more general, but researchers did determine they are consuming an estimated 1.067 billion mammals a year, followed by reptiles and 609 million and birds at 399 million.

Feral cats alone are believed to be killing 815 million mammals, 466 million reptiles and 265 million birds.

Cats killing almost twice as many species as foxes

The team found foxes inhabit 80 per cent of the nation, with only Tasmania and monsoonal tropical areas free from their impact.

Around 1.7 million foxes are estimated to live in Australia, feasting on at least 350 species of animals, while cats were found to feast on around 700.

Urban areas had the highest number of creatures killed per square kilometre with researching saying arguing that managing these predatory species is essential to the survival of many native species.

Introduced species costing Australia billions of dollars

Feral animals are having a devastating impact on Australia’s native animals, as the world faces an escalating biodiversity crisis.

Habitat loss, caused by mining, development and agriculture continues to displace wildlife as increased activity moves into forests and grasslands.

Climate change is amplifies the impact of these pressures, with extreme weather contributing to illness and displacement.

In November, the CSIRO concluded feral animals have cost Australia over $390 billion between 1960 and 2017.

They estimated the financial impact of feral animals has increased six-fold every decade, and warned they could result in future extinctions.

Combatting the issue has been a focus of the federal government, with environment Minister Sussan Ley describing it as "probably the biggest challenge" to Australia's native species in 2019.

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