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article imageTasmanian devils could solve Australia’s feral cat problem

By Karen Graham     Aug 12, 2015 in Environment
In July, Australia announced its plan to cull nearly two million feral cats by the year 2020. Ecologists have come up with a plan to reintroduce the Tasmanian devil to the mainland, letting the devils take care of the problem.
In February this year, Digital Journal ran a story on the loss of Australia's unique and diverse native animals from introduced predators, like the feral cat and red fox, as well as other introduced species.
But feral cats are indeed, the biggest threat to Australia's wildlife. Chris Johnson is a professor of zoology at the University of Tasmania. He estimates that feral cats eat about 75 million native animals every night in Australia. That's "more than 20 billion mammals, reptiles, birds and even insects every year."
In July, Digital Journal reported the federal government had announced a humane culling target of two million feral cats across Australia by the year 2020. With the government's announcement in mind, ecologists from the University of NSW have come up with an interesting proposal.
Feral cat with galah  mounted specimen.
Feral cat with galah, mounted specimen.
Mark Marathon
They think Australia's iconic little monster, the Tasmanian devil could be the solution to the country's feral cat and fox problem. They feel that reintroducing the devil for the first time in 3,000 years would stop the spread of the foreign predators.
Associate Professor Mike Letnic, co-author of the study, says that while the evidence suggests that devils and dingos could not co-exist, in areas where the dingos have disappeared, Tasmanian devils could be reintroduced, making them the top predator over cats and foxes.
“Foxes have been introduced to Tasmania several times and they’ve never taken hold, and as Tasmania is not particularly different from the mainland, the best explanation as to why foxes haven’t been able to thrive in Tasmania is the Tasmanian devil,” he told
Trapping feral cats has been done in Australia for years.
Trapping feral cats has been done in Australia for years.
The researchers are suggesting a large area in southeast Australia could be fenced in and researchers could see how the devils go up against foxes and cats, and if the devils prove to be successful, they could be released into the wider landscape.
Letnic added, “The animals that would benefit are what I would call football-sized native animals, such as bandicoots and potoroo and bettong. A lot of these animals have gone extinct on the mainland, but they still exist in Tasmania where devils are today, and the main reason is foxes and cats. So those animals who are left can thrive, and maybe it’s up to the devils to bring these other animals back as well.”
The idea of "re-wilding" an ecosystem is something that has taken hold in Europe, the U. S. and now, in Australia. Letnic says, “The whole idea of re-wilding is reconstructing ecosystems we had 200 years ago, or in this case 3,000 years ago."
Even Gregory Andrews, the Australian government’s threatened species commissioner agrees with the science. He said, “Native predator reintroduction is identified as a science-based means of recovering mammals and birds in Australia’s threatened species strategy." He added that community support was essential before the program could go forward.
More about tasmanian devils, Trial Run, cats and foxes, Endangered species, Australias feral cats
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