Feral cat
Feral cats are an enormous problem in Australia and New Zealand.Kunal Mukherjee / Flickr

The Australian government is on track to kill two million feral cats, including large males which can take down a wallaby. The cats are threatening 124 native endangered species.

An AU$5m (£3m) fund will be used to encourage community groups to humanely trap and euthanize the animals. In total, the government hopes to wipe out about a third of the population.

The cull has been met with huge backlash since it was announced last year, with threatened species commissioner Gregory Andrews receiving death threats as a result.

"They are the single biggest threat to our native animals, and have already directly driven to extinction 20 out of 30 mammals lost," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We are not culling cats for the sake of it, we are not doing so because we hate cats."

In a study published in Mammal Review last year, scientists said feral cats have already pushed 20 Australian mammal species to extinction. The current cull is a bid to spare over 100 other species currently threatened by the cats.

"We have got to make choices to save animals that we love, and who define us as a nation like the bilby, the Black-footed rock-wallaby and the night parrot," Andrews said.

Josh Frydenberg, environment and energy minister, is expected to announce the first round of grants next month. The money will be used so mayors across the country can offer free euthanasia (of cats) to their communities.

The cull will continue until 2020 – but experts warn the current target of two million cats may not be enough. A recent population survey indicates there are six million feral cats living in Australia, having spread across every part of Australia.

Sarah Legge, from the University of Queensland, was an author of a recent study into feral cat populations in Australia. She said the cull should be focused on areas where native species at risk are most vulnerable. She also said it should target 'catastrophic' feral cats – namely large males that are able to kill bigger prey like wallabies.

Speaking at the time of the report, John Read, founder of the company that dissects feral cats to analyse their diet, said: "No one should underestimate the abundance or impact that cats are having in Australia. These cats have awesome hunting skills and will eat just about anything.

"In my experience there are very few Australian animals that are not vulnerable to cat predation at some stage, cassowaries, koalas and echidnas are probably the only animals not threatened directly by cat predation."