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Feral cats pose serious threat to Australia's reptiles

"Some cats eat staggering numbers of reptiles," said lead researcher John Woinarski.

By Brooks Hays
Feral cats pose serious threat to Australia's reptiles
Scientists found hundreds of lizard and snake species in the stomachs and intestines of feral cats in Australia. Photo by Arid Recovery/Threatened Species Recovery Hub

June 25 (UPI) -- The ecological damage done by feral cats is well documented. While previous studies have detailed the impacts of feline predation on birds and small mammals, new research suggests cats in Australia pose an even greater threat to reptiles.

According to the latest survey by Australia's Threatened Species Recovery Hub, feral cats in Australia kill 650 million reptiles per year. The federally-funded hub is a joint effort among several research universities and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

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Researchers culled and dissected the guts of 10,000 cats across the Australia continent, documenting the thousands of partially digested reptile species -- mostly lizards and snakes.

"Some cats eat staggering numbers of reptiles," lead researcher John Woinarski, a professor at Charles Darwin University, said in a news release. "We found many examples of single cats bingeing on lizards, with a record of 40 individual lizards in a single cat stomach."

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Of the 250 different species found in the stomachs and intestines of feral cats, 11 were threatened species.

"Comparing our findings with research from overseas we found that feral cats eat more reptiles in Australia than they do in the US or Europe," Woinarski said. "This could be because we have more abundant reptiles in Australia."

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Scientists found domestic cats also contribute to the loss of reptiles. However, researchers found cats pose the most significant threat to wildlife among drier, inland regions, Australia's deserts and scrubland.

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"I would like to commend pet owners who are containing their cats, which is both safer for their pets and better for Australia's wildlife," said Sally Box, Australia's threatened species commissioner.

The results of the survey were published in the journal Wildlife Research.

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