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.
Marshall, J.C., Blessing, J.J., Clifford, S.E., Negus, P.M., & Steward, A.L. (2020). Epigeic invertebrates of pig‐damaged, exposed wetland sediments are rooted: An ecological response to feral pigs (Sus scrofa). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 2020; 1– 14. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.3468
Feral pigs on Gulf beaches were predating on the eggs in 100% of marine turtle nests. Hub research is developing technologies to link monitoring with adaptive management responses by Aak Puul Ngantam rangers, meaning that more baby turtles are hatching & reaching the waters of the Gulf.
Nordberg, E.J., Macdonald, S., Zimny, G., Hoskins, A., Zimny, A., Somaweera, R., Ferguson, J. & Perry, J. (2019). An evaluation of nest predator impacts and the efficacy of plastic meshing on marine turtle nests on the western Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Biological Conservation, Volume 238, 2019, 108201, ISSN 0006-3207, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108201.
Negus, P.M., Marshall, J.C., Clifford, S.E., Blessing, J.J. & Steward, A.L. (2019). No sitting on the fence: protecting wetlands from feral pig damage by exclusion fences requires effective fence management. Wetlands Ecology & Management https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-019-09670-7
Waltham, N., & Schaffer, J. (2018). Thermal and asphyxia exposure risk to freshwater fish in feral‐pig‐damaged tropical wetlands. Journal of Fish Biology, 93(4), 723-728.
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 is due for completion in June 2021.
Justin Perry, CSIRO