Sydney: To many of us cats may seem like the ideal domestic companion, however to Australia's wildlife they are a deadly menace, wiping out over 2 billion local reptiles, birds and mammals every year, according to a study revealed on Tuesday.
The research appears in a new book by three of Australia's leading environmental scientists - Professor John Woinarski from Charles Darwin University, Professor Sarah Legge from the Australian National University and Professor Chris Dickman from the University of Sydney.
"Cats in Australia: Companion and Killer" explores the history and legacy of cats after having being introduced to the southern continent, and some of the difficulties involved stemming their influence.
According to Legge, cats have been a leading cause of at least two-thirds of Australia's mammal extinctions over the past 200 years, but most pet owners are unaware of just how much damage their cute little friend is doing.
"On average each pet cat kills about 75 animals per year, but many of these kills are never witnessed by their owners," Legge said.
While that may seem low compared with the 740 animals killed on average every year by feral cats, "in urban areas, the density of cats is much higher (over 60 cats per square kilometer)," Legge said.
"As a result, cats in urban areas kill many more animals per square kilometer each year than cats in the bush," Legge added.
According to Woinarski, the problem of how to reduce the impact on the environment is complicated by the relationship of affection and love which many people have with cats.
"Cats tamed humans about 4,000 years ago and since then they have cunningly used humans to provide food, comfort, and safety, and to aid their dispersal across, and conquest of, most of the world," Woinarski said.
"We want to alert and inform all Australians to the threat cats pose to our wildlife - our community and leaders need to manage this threat far more effectively if we want to conserve Australia's unique wildlife," Woinarski said.