Australia feral cats
Australia to cull 2 million cats by 2020 to save other species from extinction. Picture for representative purpose onlyReuters

Australia will cull nearly two million feral cats by 2020 in order to protect species which are on the brink of extinction, the government has said.

Authorities estimate the five-year special strategy will help ensure the safety of 20 mammal, 20 bird and 30 plant species. "Safe havens" will also be created for the most risk-prone species.

"More than 80% of our mammals and 90% of our trees, ferns and shrubs occur nowhere else on earth. But since European settlement, in just over 200 years, over 130 of Australia's known species have become extinct, lost to us and to the world forever. The list of those threatened with extinction continues to grow. Australia's threatened species are ours to protect and we all have a role to play," the government said.

Unveiling the strategy at a Melbourne zoo, Australia's federal environment minister, Greg Hunt said: "We are drawing a line in the sand today which says, 'on our watch, in our time, no more species extinction'."

"By 2020, I want to see two million feral cats culled, five new islands and 10 new mainland 'safe havens' free of feral cats, and control measures applied across 10 million hectares."

The feral cat will be listed as a harmful pest and hunted down through various methods, said the Australian minister. Culling methods will include baiting, shooting or poisoning.

There are estimated to be 20 million feral cats in Australia and they are thought to be killing almost 75 million native animals a day.

Gregory Andrews, Australia's first threatened-species commissioner, told national radio that a "war" is being declared on feral cats.

"It is very important to emphasise that we don't hate cats. We just can't tolerate the damage that they're doing anymore to our wildlife ... Over 120 Australian animals are at risk of extinction from feral cats. So the scientific evidence is crystal clear that they're the biggest threat."