When the cat’s away, the mice and a raft of other endangered native animals will play.
At least that’s what a group of conservationists in Australia’s red centre are hoping, with work under way on the world’s largest feral cat eradication project.
The Shark Bay Mouse is one of 10 creatures to benefit from a $10million cat-proof fence being built in the central desert region to help combat an extinction crisis.
The project will create a 70000ha bushland haven where reintroduced native mammals can thrive once again.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy chief executive Atticus Fleming said 30 native mammal species had disappeared since European settlement — the worst extinction rate on the planet.
He said cats were to blame for this ‘‘marsupial ghost town’’, with the predators killing millions of native animals every night.
There are up to 11million feral cats across the country, threatening at least 60 native mammals that are currently in danger of extinction. They include bilbies, numbats, bettongs and rock wallabies.
AWC is raising $10million to build a 180km electrified fence in the heart of the nation by 2021.
Stage one has already begun at Newhaven Sanctuary, 350km north-west of Alice Springs, where a 45km fence will enclose a 9500ha area by early next year.
This initial stage costs $5million over four years and AWC has raised half of that, including $750000 from the Federal Government.
The foxes, rabbits and cats should be removed by the end of 2018, after which animals including the central rock rat, mala and phascogales will be reintroduced.
Mr Fleming said the restoration of ecological health would also benefit endangered reptiles and declining birds.
‘‘The mala is a little kangaroo which is of great cultural significance to the Warlpiri people, and this project will increase numbers by more than 400 per cent,’’ he said.
‘‘It’ll more than double the population of at least six of Australia’s most endangered mammals.’’
AWC is partnering with traditional owners by tapping into the expertise of indigenous trackers and creating local jobs.