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 $10 million cat-proof fence being built in the central desert region to help combat an extinction crisis.
The project will create a 70,000-hectare bushland haven where reintroduced native mammals can thrive once again.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy chief executive Atticus Fleming says 30 native mammal species have disappeared since European settlement – the worst extinction rate on the planet.
He says cats are to blame for this “marsupial ghost town”, with the predators killing millions of native animals every night.
There are up to 11 million 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 $10 million to build a 180-kilometre electrified fence in the heart of the nation by 2021.
Stage one has already begun at Newhaven Sanctuary, 350km northwest of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, where a 45km fence will enclose a 9500-hectare area by early next year.
This initial stage costs $5 million over four years and AWC has raised half of that, including $750,000 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.
The restoration of ecological health will also benefit endangered reptiles and declining birds, Mr Fleming says.
AWC is partnering with traditional owners by tapping into the expertise of indigenous trackers and creating local jobs.
“The mala is a little kangaroo which is of great cultural significance to the Warlpiri people, and this project will increase numbers by over 400 per cent,” he said.
“It’ll more than double the population of at least six of Australia’s most endangered mammals.”