180 million years ago, the supercontinent Gondwana split off from Pangaea. Gondwana included the areas we today know as Arabia, Africa, South America, Antarctica, Zealandia, the Indian Subcontinent, and Australia. Then, 99 million years ago, Australia split off from Gondwana.
The oldest big cat fossil discovered is from 5.9 million years ago; this would lead you to correctly assume that Australia can’t have any native big cats.
Australia drifted away from the rest of the world before big cats evolved, but that doesn’t mean cats can’t exist in Australia. Below we’ll tell you all about the cats living in Australia and the cats that might be.
Cats in Australia
Although devoid of native cats, Australia is full of feral and domestic cats. Cats, feral or domestic, inhabit 99.9% of Australia’s landmass. Cats first found themselves on the shores of Australia in 1788; when European settlers brought them on ships, the cats escaped and bred.
It turns out Australia is perfect for cats. There is plenty of prey to hunt, and a warm climate benefits the growing feline population.
Feral cats are a huge problem for Australia, and the Australian cat population is between 2 million and 6 million. The cats manage to kill an estimated 2 billion animals a year. Australia’s native animals evolved away from any other land mass for millions of years; they aren’t built to fight cats. Feral cats have caused the extinction of at least 20 species and are eating their way through Australia.
What The Australian Government Is Doing About Feral Cats
The Australian government has begun to cull the feral cat population. In 2015, they were declared pests, and all prior protections were removed. The Australian residents were encouraged to control the wild cat population like any other pest. They’ve also set up a Feral Cat Taskforce, whose job it is to keep track of and report on feral cat numbers.
Wild Cat Species That Might Live in Australia
Sightings of big cats are often reported outside of their natural habitat. The animals are called Phantom Cats or Alien Big Cats because they’re not native to Australia. However, when the sightings are investigated, no evidence is discovered.
Gippsland Phantom Cats
Big cat sightings have been reported in Gippsland since the 1970s. The most likely reason for this is that people see giant feral cats, but according to some, they’re pumas. The US military stationed in Australia used two pumas as mascots until the end of World War II, when they were released into the wild.
Blue Mountains Panther
For over a century, Australians have reported big cats in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. If the Blue Mountains Panther exists, it’s most likely the descendant of big, escaped cats from zoos or traveling circuses. But like with the Gippsland Phantom Cat, it’s most likely a large domestic cat.
Australia is home to many cats, but none of them are big cats. However, feral cats are a massive problem for Australia’s native species. With the feral cats getting larger, one day, they may be similar to their wildcat cousins, but hopefully, Australia can save its native species and remain a land without big cats.
Featured Image Credit: Janusz Pienkowski, Shutterstock