Australia is home to some of the most unique endemic fauna of the world, but introduced species-- notably the feral cat and red fox-- have decimated (almost literally, with 11% loss since 1788) Australia's land mammals.
Given Australia's affluence and relatively small population, they are primed for conservation success; however, introduced species have a long history of destroying native biofauna, particularly on islands. For example, compare the fates of two types of small flightless island-dwelling birds:
The Inaccessible Island Rail continues to flourish on its happily inaccessible island, to which no introduced species have been brought, despite attempted colonization*.
The Stephen's Island Wren was wiped out almost entirely by a single cat named Tibbles, who was owned by the lighthouse-keeper. (For a long time, it was thought that Tibbles was singlehandedly responsible for the Wren's extinction, but we now know that several other feral cats contributed as well).
Let us hope that Australia finds a method of controlling the invasive species population to preserve its unique and beautiful mammal diversity.
Many thanks to Australian Elliott Bannan for sending along this article!
* Lowe (1928) presents a history of voyages to Inaccessible Island, which started in 1871 when two brothers, Gustav and Friedridh Stoltenhoff, made it their goal to settle on Inaccessible Island, planning to kill seals and trade fur with passing ships. The forbidding name of Inaccessible Island did not warn the brothers away from their pursuit, so they went to the island, subsequently spent two years in a state of near starvation, and were finally rescued in 1873.
In October 1873, a ship called the Challenger stopped for a short visit to Inaccessible Island to rescue the foolhardy brothers. Sir Wyville Thomson became captivated by a tiny dark bird he noticed during their short stay, which he called the Island Hen. Wyville wrote:
“The Stoltenhoffs were very familiar with [the Island Hen]…”
I briefly interject here to comment with amusement on the undertones of that statement- the poor brothers were marooned for two years and doubtless had many an occasion to become “familiar with” Atlantisi rogersi.
Australia has lost one in ten of its native mammals species over the last 200 years in what conservationists describe as an "extinction calamity". No other nation has had such a high rate of loss of land mammals over this time period, according to scientists at Charles Darwin University, Australia. The decline is mainly due to predation by the feral cat and the red fox, which were introduced from Europe, they say.