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Cats make Australia's bushfire tragedy worse



Cats are scientifically, objectively, and monumentally terrible for the planet. In the United States alone, free-range domestic cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals annually, not to mention reptiles and amphibians. You are a scourge of the highest order.

Cats are now ready to exacerbate Australia's ecological crisis as an unprecedented fire season hits the continent. Scientists have previously shown that wild cats hunt for surviving animals in recently burned areas in Australia, taking advantage of the injured or weakened condition of many victims. A study found that a wild cat traveled 19 miles to a scar. Roaming cats could stay away for up to 50 days and massacre helpless locals in a now barren landscape. (They probably use a combination of sight and smell to locate bushfires through their smoke.)

In another study, researchers attached collar cameras to 1

3 wildcats and recorded 101 hunting events in an Australian savannah, 32 of which were successful. All in all, the killing rate was 7.2 victims per cat every 24 hours, and in a quarter of the cases, the hunters didn't even eat their kills – they are so-called surplus killers. The cats were particularly successful when hunting in open areas, similar to a fire-burned landscape, with 70 percent of the cases successfully killed. Another study found that wildcats are particularly attracted to areas that have recently been burned and tend to avoid those that are three months or older, possibly because the vegetation has started to grow again at that time, or because they simply wiped out the prey living there. Australia is miserable with cats, as the invasive cats are estimated to have settled in only 0.2 percent of the country. A maximum of 100 cats can pack on one square kilometer. Since no cat is native to Australia, native species are not suitable for avoiding and escaping them. Accordingly, the Australian government has made great efforts to exterminate cats in order to protect the natives from destruction.

At the same time, the continent has become a dramatic stage for the devastation of climate change. A hotter world means drier vegetation and bigger fires, and the fires this season are behaving amazingly: Instead of a mild bush fire burning here and there, the fires now balance out entire ecosystems. For example, species used to be able to escape to a neighboring rainforest, but now Australia is so dry that even rainforests blow straight away. Millions and millions of hectares have been burned to the ground in recent months, and the fire season is far from over.

The severity of this year's fires is unprecedented, says conservation biologist Sarah Legge, who is studying the effects of wild cats after bush fires. "In terms of the potential for recovery, that's something that worries us a lot."

Some areas in Australia, which usually burn every 50 to 100 years, have burned three or four times in the past two decades. "They didn't have enough time to recover before another fire destroyed them," said Australian National University ecologist David Lindenmayer. "And that means that the risk of the system breaking into another environment is very high."

Given the massive fires of the past few months, scientists will only be able to tell the full extent of the damage if they can Get it there and take surveys. What they do know is that animals experience multiple stress factors after a bush fire. Their prey may have perished or fled, and the herbivore vegetation has been eradicated. The fact that Australia is suffering from a brutal drought and the animal world is already suffering from water shortages cannot be helped.


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