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Australia builds world's largest cat-proof fence to protect native species

Staff Writer |
An Australian wildlife conservation group has fenced off a 94 square-km sanctuary in the country's north in an attempt to save native marsupials and birds from the growing problem of feral cats.

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Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) has constructed a 44-km fence on farmland in the Northern Territory and removed more than 60 feral cats from it, paving the way for the regeneration of endangered native animal species.

The world's largest cat-free area was completed at the Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary - a former cattle station - after research estimated that cats killed approximately 73,000 native mammals, reptiles and birds a year in the area.

Feral cats are thought to be responsible for the extinction of 20 native marsupial species since they were introduced by the First Fleet of ships to Australia 231 years ago.

Conservationists plan to reintroduce a total of 11 endangered marsupials into the area, including bilbies, numbats, golden bandicoots, western quolls and black-footed rock wallabies.

AWC chief executive Atticus Fleming said on Thursday the mala population (a species of wallaby) was expected to grow from 2,400 to 18,000 over 10 years inside the sanctuary.

Fleming said the sanctuary would free the region from its moniker as the "global epicenter for mammal extinctions," having lost about 30 species since European colonization.

"There are lots of things being tried. Better baits, better traps and in the long term stuff like gene-drive technology," Fleming said on Thursday.

"But at this point in time, there's no silver bullet and no guarantee there will be a silver bullet. So these large feral-free areas are critical."

Feral cats are estimated to kill hundreds of thousands of native birds across the country every day.

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