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Cat Scrunchies Could Save Endangered Australian Wildlife

An ‘80s fashion accessory is making a comeback with Down Under conservationists.

Photo by Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue via Flickr

A new study says that the scrunchie, a historical, late 20th-century hair accessory, might be the answer to one of the biggest dangers facing Australia’s local wildlife. ABC Australia reports that collaring cats with the frilled, brightly colored bands keeps prowling felines from killing the nation’s threatened birds and lizards, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world.

While most of the rest of the world evolved with the privilege of cats—fantastic, furry homicidal maniacs that keep everything else in nature on its toes—Australia’s flora and fauna developed without feline participation in its food chain. This is just one of the factors contributing to the country’s own microcosm of unique wildlife, much of which is trying to kill you at any given time. But over the years, various species brought over with European settlers or as parts of ill-fated agricultural schemes have managed to thrive, causing chaos in the ecosystems of Oz. Cats, both feral and domestic are among the most destructive of those invaders.

The paradise parrot

First introduced by British settlers about 200 years ago, cats have become a menace, contributing to the endangerment and even extinction of many species. After destruction of habitat thinned its ranks, the now-extinct paradise parrot is said to have been brought to its final demise by feral cats. The night parrot too, thought to be extinct until a recent sighting, fell prey to Australia’s new felines, who probably couldn’t believe their luck at the discovery of these daffy, naive, ground-dwelling birds. And according to The Conversation, cats have also contributed to completely killing off “at least 20 mammal species and sub-species, including the lesser bilby and desert bandicoot.”

Enter the scrunchie. Murdoch University Ph.D. student Catherine Hall studied 114 cats over the course of two years, instructing their owners to freeze and save everything their cats killed. By comparing what the cats killed when wearing scrunchie collars to their regular haul of carcasses, Hall was able to determine that colorful, frilly neckwear cut down feline predation on birds, reptiles and amphibians by more than 50 percent. The accessories warned off animals with vision sensitive to bright colors.

“Bright colors are very noticeable to songbirds, they should see the cats further away, allowing them to escape earlier,” Hall told ABC.

And although the scrunchie’s comeback could make Australia a safer place for some endangered species, these collars will apparently not ruin your pet’s facility as a rat-catcher. Per ABC:

The study found the collar did not make a difference to the number of mice and other mammals caught as their color vision was not as good, meaning owners could still use their cats to catch garden pests.

“For people who want their cats to catch small rodents like rats and mice but don't want them to catch birds, this is an effective device to use,” Ms. Hall said.

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