Although your pet cat Felix may seem “cute and cuddly,” in truth, at least according to wildlife officials, he’s actually a crafty and deadly environmental menace.

In the U.S., cats are responsible for killing a whopping 3.7 million birds and 20.7 million mammals each year. And while many of them are varmints like mice (which is probably fine for most of us), others can be of a rare or even endangered nature.

In Australia, cats have become an even bigger ecological problem. As a non-native species, feral cats have established themselves in all but .2 percent of the continent and have reproduced enough to pack themselves in at a level of 100 cats per square kilometer in many places. The government has even launched a large-scale feline eradication effort to try and save many of their native species from complete extinction caused by cats.

And these problems with the frisky critters are now compounded even further with the recent wildfires Down Under.

As reported in

Now felines are poised to exacerbate the ecological crisis unfolding in Australia as an unprecedented fire season rips across the continent. Scientists have previously shown that feral cats hunt surviving animals across recently burned lands in Australia, exploiting many of the victims’ injured or weakened state. One study found that a feral cat journeyed 19 miles to a burn scar. Roaming cats might stay away for up to 50 days, massacring helpless locals on a now barren landscape. (They’re likely using a combination of sight and smell to pinpoint bushfires by their smoke.)

In another study, researchers attached collar cameras to 13 feral cats and recorded 101 hunting events in an Australian savanna, of which 32 were successful. All told, the kill rate was equivalent to 7.2 victims per cat every 24 hours, and the hunters didn’t even eat their kills a quarter of the time—they’re what are known as surplus killers. The cats were particularly successful when hunting in open areas roughly analogous to a fire-torched landscape, with successful kills 70 percent of the time. Yet another study found feral cats are highly attracted to areas that burned recently and tend to avoid ones three months or older, perhaps because vegetation has begun to grow back by that time, or they’ve simply obliterated the prey species there.

At the moment, wildlife officials seem to have few answers as to how to handle the cat menace. Here’s hoping they will be able sink their claws into something soon!

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