Predation by feral cats makes the Kangaroo Island dunnart critically endangered – a small, mouse-sized marsupial found only on Kangaroo Island off southern Australia. South – on the verge of extinction.
The study, published in Scientific reportsstresses the urgency of protecting vulnerable species from predation by feral cats, especially following natural disasters such as bushfires.
It is estimated that there are only about 500 Kangaroo Island dunnarts (Sminthopsis aitkeni) left on Kangaroo Island, located off the southern coast of Australia. The island suffered significant damage in the 2019-2020 bushfires and 98% of the dunnart’s habitat was badly burned. Feral cat predation poses a significant risk to many native Australian species, but it has not yet been confirmed whether cats are a threat to dunnarts on Kangaroo Island.
Dr Louis Lignereux of the University of Adelaide and colleagues studied the impact of feral cat predation on Kangaroo Island dunnarts by assessing the stomach contents and digestive tract of 86 feral cats that were captured between February and August 2020 in specially designated conservation areas on the island. All cats were captured under the National Feral Cat Control Program and were euthanized in accordance with South Australian animal welfare laws.
The authors identified the remains of eight individual dunnarts from Kangaroo Island in the digestive systems of seven different cats (8.1% of sampled cats).
These findings represent the first confirmation that feral cats prey on Kangaroo Island dunnarts and suggest that they are effective hunters of this species given the small numbers of dunnarts that remain after bushfires.
The combined pressures of a small isolated population, natural disasters like bushfires and predation by introduced predators such as feral cats could drive this vulnerable species to extinction, the authors say. They emphasize the need to maintain control of feral cat populations in areas that harbor endangered species.