Hunters have been instrumental in bringing back yellow footed rock wallabies from near extinction in the Flinders Rangers after a concerted effort of pest control spanning two decades.
The SA Hunting and Conservation branch of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia was primarily responsible for removing more than 60,000 feral goats in South Australia’s Operation Bounceback since the program began in 1992, and continues to be an integral part of keeping them under control.
Aerial shooting accounted for another 82,000 goats, according to project officer Trish Mooney, who told ABC rural radio’s Sophie McInnerney that the coordinated control of foxes and goats in many parts of the Flinders had led to a “remarkable” recovery not just of the yellow footed rock wallaby but of native vegetation, too.
Ms Mooney said areas that had as few as 50 of the wallabies 20 years ago now supported around 1000, and she said the figures represented a long-term trend rather than seasonal anomalies.
As the program celebrates 20 years of measurable success, SSAA H&C committee member Kaz Herbst remembers the huge number of goats they faced in 1992.
“When we started, the number of goats was in excess of 25 per square kilometre,” he told Sporting Shooter, adding that the first cull took more than 3500 of the ferals. Now, he says, you only find goats in out-of-the-way places, and the program has expanded beyond its initial targets.
“Now we have cat and fox programs. There are weed programs. The whole thing has grown from just looking after goats and they realised you can succeed on a larger scale.”
Ms Mooney pointed to the contrast between the area covered by Operation Bounceback and those outside it.
“Properties where [it is] not occurring, we’re still seeing yellow foots declining and even disappearing,” she said.
Ms Mooney believes it is not possible to eradicate the pest species, which also include rabbits, but said controlling them was crucial to the ability of native animals and plants to maintain viable populations.
“We do know it’s important just to prevent an increase” in pest populations, she said.
“Just to stop the population increasing we need to remove at least 40% of the goat population every year.”
The South Australian H&C branch has about 350 members, of which Mr Herbst says about 80-90 are very active. Bounceback is one of a number of large- and small-scale programs H&C is involved in around the state.