When and Why Were Cats Introduced to Australia?

A purring cat is a common sight in many family homes, and they are much-beloved members of the family. It seems inconceivable that they were once far from a purring staple, curled up on the comfy chair and demanding the undivided attention of their human owners. In fact, cats are considered an invasive species in Australia, and the effect of their introduction on the local ecological system has been devastating.

Cats in Australia

How Did Cats Come to Australia?

It is widely believed that cats entered the country via the Dutch shipwrecks of the 17th century, though it is far more likely that they arrived with the European settlers of the 18th century. Settlers and explorers may have brought their domestic cats with them on their journey to a new life, and many ships would have had cats on board to help keep rats and pests at bay. It is likely that these cats hopped off the boat once arriving at their destination, and this sparked the start of the feline takeover.

There has also been some research to suggest that certain types of cats were in Australia even earlier, with their history possibly extending as far back as that of the dingoes 5,000 years ago. The trading of the Aboriginals and the Southeast Asian Macassans consisted primarily of trepang or sea cucumbers, but it seems highly unlikely that this would have been the only goods they traded. The trade connections shared by these two parties was so extensive that it even extended to language with both groups sharing similar words. It is possible, therefore, that cats arrived into the region through this manner, and have existed for longer than previously anticipated.

Why Were They Introduced?

However cats entered Australia, it seems almost certain that the initial meeting was accidental. Later on, however, locals began to appreciate the value of these creatures in controlling the rats and rodents which blighted crops and grain, making it challenging to store food for an extended period. Over an extended period, cats began to enter the houses of humans, firstly as ratcatchers and pest controllers, and later into the typical house cat which so many of us share our homes with today.

Cats are an invasive species and are thought to occupy 99 percent of Australia. They have had a devastating impact on native species, as cats only have two main natural predators: dingoes and eagles. In areas where these two creatures are not found, felines reign supreme.

It is estimated that the total population estimate is anywhere between two to six million, and it shows no sign of abating. Wild cats are believed to have had an enormous impact on ground-nesting birds, as well as small native mammals. These are naturally attractive prey to the animals, and with no predators to control them, cats have been able to have free reign over their domain.

The rise of feral cats has also made it more challenging to reintroduce or re-establish those native species which have been threatened; the newly released animals are simply hunted and killed by the dominant cats.

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