Removing Cats To Protect Native Birds Backfires On Island

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - While it seemed like a good idea at the time, researchers in Australia say the decision to remove feral cats from a famous island (Macquarie) to protect native seabirds there has backfired.

The disappearance of the cats allowed the island's rabbit population to explode, and the rabbits have destroyed much of the island's fragile vegetation. Neither species is native to the island.

Meanwhile the birds depend on the vegetation for cover. The researchers describe the result as "environmental devastation."

Writing in the Journal of Applied Ecology, Dana Bergstrom of the Australian Antarctic Division says fixing the situation will cost authorities 24 million Australian dollars. She says the cat removal project has compromised decades of conservation efforts and shows the dangers of meddling with an ecosystem without a comprehensive understanding of the situation and the risks.

Macquarie Island is located about halfway between Australia and the Antarctic continent, It was designated a World Heritage site and is the world's only island composed entirely of oceanic crust.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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