Cat Quiz: How many feral cats are there really??

There’s 15-20 million across Australia! Too easy. Common knowledge. We all know that. Known that for ages. Next question… Hang on mate, not so fast… 

Show me the data. Where did that estimate come from? I can’t find the reference. What is the confidence around that number? I still haven’t met a scientist working in this field that knows about this. Is it really that much? Maybe it’s heaps more…. Maybe it’s heaps less… We just don’t know right?

This is exactly the kind of rambling questioning that Quizmaster Sarah and 40 other Carryover-Champions wanted to stop. They reckoned it was high-time we got a good answer to this question – especially given the significant impact feral cats have on native wildlife, as well as being the focus of considerable management resources…

The approach was a pretty straight forward one – collate all the data we have that measured feral cat density anywhere in Australia at anytime, and use those results to extrapolate. A total of 91 site-based feral cat estimates were used, location and environmental information was fed into the model, and the numbers were …*drumroll*…

1.4 million at the end of dry periods, and 5.6 million during wet times. Hmm… that’s not 20 million… So the take home message here is that the number of feral cats in Australia is much much lower that that old estimate – that no one can pin down what it’s based on anyway. This new estimate is based on all the data… this is the answer to the question… Use these numbers!

For the actual science of this story, you should definitely read the paper and contact the authors if you have any questions.

Legge S, et al. [40 others] (2016) Enumerating a continental-scale threat: How many feral cats are in Australia? Biological Conservation DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2016.11.032

K!E#23 by Luke S. O’Loughlin

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