June 12, 2018 GREG BEARUP John Woinarski, from the Threatened Species Hub, said “cats kill more than one million birds, more than one million reptiles, and more than one million mammals in Australia every day”. Picture: Fredy Mercay A Sydney businessman and his wife have pledged $1 million for research into feral cat eradication in a move that will kickstart work on the development of genetically modified cats. Andrew Clifford, chief investment officer at Platinum Asset Management, and his wife, Jane, have pledged to match Australian Wildlife Conservancy dollar for dollar, up to $1m, to raise money for feral cat research. The Australian recently revealed that AWC had signed an agreement with the CSIRO to develop a genetically modified cat and some of the money the Cliffords will donate will go towards developing this technology. Feral cats are voracious hunters of native birds, reptiles and mammals and have hunted many native mammals to the point of extinction. John Woinarski, from the Threatened Species Hub, said “cats kill more than one million birds, more than one million reptiles, and more than one million mammals in Australia every day”. The idea behind the CSIRO project is to breed genetically engineered cats that produce only male offspring. These cats would be released across the continent and within a number of generations this gene would spread through the population and feral cats would breed themselves out of existence. Mr Clifford said he had been a supporter of AWC for more than a decade and had seen first-hand how destructive cats had been on our native mammals. The population of species such as the mala (rufous hare-wallaby) and the numbat used to number many hundreds of millions; they now exist in small pockets only, with their numbers reduced to a few hundred. “You go out and see some of these animals and you think, ‘There are only 150 of these still living’,” Mr Clifford said. “Things are very much on the edge (for many of our native mammals).” He said he was happy to see his money used to develop a genetically modified cat. “AWC are doing a lot to create large, fenced, feral-free reserves,” he said, “but the longer-term goal is how we deal with feral cats outside the fences. “This gene-drive technology really stands out as the one area where over a longer period of time we might have a real breakthrough with feral cats.” AWC chief executive Atticus Fleming said his organisation would launch a major campaign today in an attempt to raise at least $1m before the end of the financial year to match the donation made by the Cliffords, and he urged people to go to the AWC website and donate. Some of the money would be spent to investigate mapping and sequencing the sex genomes of cats. It would also go towards studies on feral cat ecology, looking at how they breed in the wild and how the kittens disperse.