Feral cats take their toll on Australia's bilby

Has the bilby disappeared from Western Australia? Recent attempts to capture the endangered marsupials for captive breeding programs turned up no signs of the critters -- but plenty of empty dens and a plethora of feral cat tracks.

Once prevalent throughout Australia, the greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) has faced a rapidly declining population as introduced species like cats and foxes have eaten their way through the continent's native wildlife.

Feral cats have already driven a number of Australian bird and mammal species into extinction, and currently threaten the survival of several more endangered species, according to the country's Department of the Environment and Heritage.

Malcolm Douglas, a conservationist who runs a captive breeding programs for the bilby, had hoped to find eight more animals to supplement the genetic range of his existing population. Another wildlife expert told The West Australian that the bilby now has "no hope of survival in the wild."

The only other bilby species, the lesser bilby, was declared extinct in 1950, the victim of predation by foxes and competition for food from rabbits, another invasive species devastating Australia.