We all know that domestic cats can be savage little hunters, getting their paws on all sorts of tiny critters from spiders to songbirds to geckoes. It seems they also have a pretty voracious appetite, with one hungry kitty devouring an entire kangaroo in a matter of days.
Of course, the small cat did not bring down the bouncy beast, it was dead already, but the sighting is nevertheless a rarity.
Emma Spencer is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney who focuses on the diets of predators like foxes, cats, and dingoes in the vast, red sandy Simpson Desert in Australia’s Northern Territory. She recently set up camera traps around carcasses in the desert to observe who popped by for a snack.
"I'm fairly sure that feral cats have been documented feeding on kangaroo carcasses before," Spencer told IFLScience. "That being said, I haven't heard of a feral cat consuming an entire red kangaroo before, which is why we were so surprised when we reviewed our camera footage!"
The most common visitors to the carcasses were wedge-tailed eagles, while wild dogs and dingoes, which Spencer expected to be numerous around the free meat supplies, were surprisingly scarce. This may be because they had a sufficient supply of kangaroos to feed on elsewhere, and didn’t need to feed on the carcasses next to the cameras.
The most noticeable oddity, though, was the arrival of a ginger cat at the body of a kangaroo. Far from being someone’s pet, the cat was feral – a domestic cat that lives wild and fends for itself. Parts of Australia are somewhat overrun with these untamed felines, so the government is keen to cull them to protect local wildlife.
"We've had this one [cat] come in and pretty much take out an entire 30-kilogram [66-pound] kangaroo, eating it all over a number of days," Spencer told ABC News. "It was probably a very happy cat.”
"Even when most of the meat was gone, the animal returned to the carcass site several times over a 2-month period," she added to IFLScience. "While visiting the carcass during this later period it didn't feed, but rather it deposited its scent on the surrounding vegetation, likely to 'mark' its territory."
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must live off meat to survive (never turn your cat vegan). Their bodies require a lot of protein and certain nutrients that can only be found in animal flesh. Being true meat-eaters, they are also very accomplished hunters, so witnessing a cat scavenging is a little unusual.
"We made our observations during a drought, where there perhaps wasn't enough of their preferred prey in the environment to fill their rumbling stomachs," said Spencer. "These cats were probably being forced to supplement their normal diet with food that they wouldn’t usually go for – in this case, some very smelly carcasses.
"In arid environments like the Simpson Desert, climate change is actually driving more frequent and heavier rainfall events," she added. "As a result, we are also seeing more frequent and more 'explosive' irruptions (or rapid population growth) of native rodents. While this might sound good, the rodents provide a major food source for red foxes and feral cats, and so these irruptions may actually be providing more favorable conditions for these pest animals to become more established.
"Following these big rain events, we will also be seeing more severe drought periods in which there are a whole lot of predators competing for not very many resources. These predators, whether they be dingoes or feral cats, will be forced to eat what they can find – including carcasses."
While scavenging cats aren’t all that common, many felids like lions will scavenge if they get the chance. These big cats will chase smaller carnivores like leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs away from carcasses to obtain an easy meal. Lions are such effective scavengers, in fact, that wild dogs struggle to survive in areas home to lots of lions.
As for Australia’s roo-munching mini lion, we hope he’s enjoying a relaxing, post-feast siesta somewhere in the Simpson Desert.
[H/T: ABC News]