Sydney: The Australian government has announced plans to systematically kill about two million feral cats over the next five years, in an effort to curb the detrimental effects that feline predators have on other species.

According to officials, the campaign will help protect dozens of native species of mammals and birds that face extinction due to an overpopulation of wild cats .

The "war on cats " was declared by Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt at the Melbourne Zoo on Thursday. 

"We are drawing a line in the sand today which says, 'On our watch, in our time, no more species extinction,'" Hunt said in an interview with the Australia Broadcasting Corporation that same day.

Descended from domestic pets originally brought to the continent by European settlers about 200 years ago, feral cat populations have soared in recent years. 

Predation by feral cats is listed as a key threatening process under Australia’s national environment law. All territories and provinces now classify the wild cats as 'pests.'

Officials estimate there are about 20 million feral cats across the country, and that they kill about 75 million native animals a day. Scientists believe feral cats have been involved in 28 of Australia’s 29 known native mammal extinctions since arriving to the country two centuries ago.

Feral cats have been blamed for the decimation of many land-based endangered animals such as the bilby, bandicoot, bettong and numbat.

"By 2020, I want to see 2 million feral cats culled, five new islands and 10 new mainland 'safe havens' free of feral cats , and control measures applied across 10 million hectares," said Hunt.

So far, the cats have been completely eliminated from at least two Australian islands.

The mass elimination of the cats will involve shooting, poisoning and baiting. Special bait has been developed to include a 'humane' toxin, called para-aminopropiophenone, in the form of hard pellets. The pellets are placed in sausage, and when ingested deliver a fast-acting toxin inside the cat's stomach that causes them to fall asleep and never wake up.

"It's very important to emphasize, too, that we don't hate cats ," explained Gregory Andrews, Australia 's threatened-species commissioner. "We just can't tolerate the damage that they're doing anymore to our wildlife."

Thursday's announcement has garnered mixed and emphatic reactions from the public and media, including online petitions to stop the culling campaign before it even gets started.

Culls such as this are not unprecedented in Australia . In the past, the government has tried to eliminate other harmful species such as cane toads and wild rabbits.

Earlier this year, plans to kill koalas to control a population boom were met with outrage from locals and wildlife activists around the world. Killing koalas is still considered to be illegal in Australia .

Courtesy The Weather Network