Defining metrics of success for feral animal management in northern Australia

Feral animals are a major threat to the ecological and economic values of northern Australia. Feral livestock, particularly pigs, as well as cattle, horses and buffalo wreak havoc on the natural environment, displace native species and threaten agricultural production.

In addition Indigenous groups have raised concerns about the damage feral animals inflict on rivers, wetlands and estuaries. Turtles, water lilies, and crocodile eggs are among the traditional resources being impacted. Adding to the complexity of this problem is the desire from Traditional Owners to preserve populations of feral pigs and buffalo as a readily available source of meat for remote communities.

Millions of dollars have been and continue to be invested in feral animal management programs. This research seeks to link such management activities with quantified, long term outcomes for environmental and cultural assets. In doing so it will define indicators of success in feral animal management that are applicable to other parts of northern Australia.

The research is exploring the extent of the damage being caused by feral animals to aquatic ecosystems and the methods to best control them. The researchers are working with Indigenous ranger groups, local communities and agencies to achieve this goal. By ensuring that all key management groups are involved in the project, the researchers aim to foster a shared understanding of the most effective and efficient ways to manage feral animals to deliver joint social, environmental and cultural benefits.

This project builds on and works alongside state and federal funding programs that have been awarded to Indigenous groups Balkanu, Aak Puul Gnangtam and Kalan Enterprises over the past five years to control feral animals in Cape York’s Archer River Basin. With support from Balkanu and funding awarded through the Australian Government’s Biodiversity Fund, Kalan and APN rangers installed pig exclusion fencing around key wetlands and compared the results to unfenced sites.

This NESP project adds value to the continued management of feral pigs by ranger groups by providing a very high standard of scientific support. The NESP team is working closely with APN and Kalan to develop a joint understanding of what works and what doesn’t in both the feral animal management and monitoring and evaluation space. This is providing important information that will help design relevant monitoring methods and reporting frameworks that can be shared with other land managers across northern Australia.

Field research is taking place in the Archer River basin, which flows from the McIlwraith Range to the west coast of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula. It focuses on key areas of impact from feral animals.

Map of the Archer River (colour)

August 2021

The Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub addressed key research questions to come up with practical, on-ground solutions to some of the north’s most complex environmental challenges. A transdisciplinary research approach has been at the heart of the hub. Integrating key research users – policy-makers and land managers including Traditional Owners and ranger groups – into the co-design of research projects has led to rapid uptake of research outcomes into land management practices and decision-making. The hub has produced this wrap-up video outlining these impacts from the perspectives of research users.

June 2021

Indigenous people face many challenges in managing their lands, including rapidly growing threats causing species extinctions and ecosystem losses. In response, many Indigenous groups are looking for ethical ways to design and apply innovative technologies to solve complex environmental management problems—specifically, technology that can work with Indigenous people’s stewardship practices and knowledge.

February 2021

CSIRO scientists and Cape York Indigenous rangers have turned to technology to boost the survival rates of turtle hatchlings in Australia’s remote far north. Australian Government funding from the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) is supporting the r

February 2021

A world-first AI-infused cloud-based system that can quickly analyse thousands of aerial photographs of remote beaches in northern Australia to identify evidence of both turtle nests and their predators has been developed by CSIRO, Aak Puul Ngantam (APN) Cape York Indigenous rangers and Microsoft as part of a National Environmental Science Program (NESP) partnership.

Power BI dashboard of feral pig management in the Archer River catchment

Power BI feral pig dashboard (demonstrated frame from the above tool URL)

The project was led by Dr Justin Perry from CSIRO. Dr Perry was supported by researchers from CSIRO, James Cook University and the Queensland Government.

Kalan Enterprises, Aak Puul Ngantam (APN Cape York) and Balkanu are essential project collaborators on this project. They will conduct extensive feral animal management activities in the region for the next two years as part of their funding through the Balkanu Feral Pig Management project, Nest To Ocean, Working On Country and Queensland Land and Sea Management funding.

This project was completed in June 2021.

Justin Perry, CSIRO
[email protected]

     JCU      Qld govt

  • Mesh protects turtle hatchlings from predation but still enables them to head for the ocean, photo by Gina Zimny.
  • Turtles survey team on Cape York beach, photo by Gina Zimny
  • Turtle surveys are essential for improving our understanding, photo by Gina Zimny
  • Rangers at work on Cape York, photo by Gina Zimny.
  • Hatchingling makes its way out of a nest, photo by Gina Zimny
  • Pig tracks showing movement between wetland areas, photo Peter Negus
  • Feral pig wallow adjacent to wetland, photo Peter Negus.
  • Kalan rangers completing annual wetland monitoring at one of the fenced lagoons near Coen as part of the Balkanu led feral pig project. Photo: Michael Lawrence-Taylor
  • Feral pigs, photo Michael Lawrence-Taylor.
  • Kalan rangers learning how to collect soil samples, which will be used to demonstrate changes to wetlands following pig exclusion, photo Justin Perry.
  • Feral pig damage.
  • Feral pigs, photo Samantha Setterfield.
  • Feral buffalo, photo Samantha Setterfield.
  • Before and after: these photos demonstrate the damage caused to wetlands when feral pigs and cattle aren’t excluded, photo Kalan Enterprises.