Feral, pest and even native animal numbers are beginning to wreak havoc in Australia, leading to increasing demands that new control measures be implemented.
Wild dogs, foxes, camels, horses, pigs and even kangaroos are just some of the animals now causing environmental, economic and pastoral problems as their numbers boom beyond safe, sustainable levels, making it clear that current control measures are not adequate.
A rejuvenated kangaroo market, fox and dog bounties, revised pest control legislation and boosted funds for camel culls are among some of the suggestions being made, on top of ongoing requests from hunters that they be included in pest control strategies.
Western Queensland graziers are suffering so badly from the ravages of wild dogs that a number of councils have united to call on the state to offer a bounty of $30 per dog killed.
This comes as others say NSW and SA need to introduce a fox bounty similar to Victoria’s, where more than 100,000 of the pests have been killed in less than a year.
“Wild dogs are an enormous impost on the rural sector and with numbers continuing to rise at a rapid rate the cost to industry will only increase,” AgForce general president Brent Finlay said in announcing that the organisation would highlight the issue during its inaugural Wild Dog Week (8-12 October).
“This problem has potential to almost singlehandedly slash profitability in the beef sector, destroy the sheep industry and decimate towns that are built on primary production.”
AgForce estimates wild dogs alone cost Australia more than $67 million a year.
The canines are also encroaching more and more on peri-urban and coastal areas, according to Mr Finlay, and they were also threatening native wildlife such as koalas.
Even Brisbane’s outer regions are host to an increasingly number, but legislation makes various control measures difficult, from baiting to shooting.
Wild dogs were also sighted for the first time in 40 years near Moree, in north-western NSW, and they are spreading throughout much of the state.
Kangaroos in western Queensland have reportedly reached record numbers, and the Queensland councils want to see the export market re-opened to help alleviate the problem.
It also makes sense to use the kangaroos as a sustainable resource, rather than just cull them. Culling such high numbers of kangaroos may also encourage the wild dog population because of the number of carcasses that would be left.
The NSW Livestock Health and Pest Authority has reported that pigs are expected to boom in many regions, and that they are being seen in areas that have not hosted pigs for many years.
The expected return of drier conditions this summer may slow the population’s growth, but the momentum already achieved is leading to greater environmental damage and other problems.
Horse numbers in Australia’s Alpine region are barely being kept under control, and the people responsible for reducing the population say they will have to look at other options.
The manager of the program to remove brumbies from Kosciusko National Park, Steve Horsley, says 615 horses were cut from the wild herds this year, but that’s about 1000 short of what is required to maintain a stable population of the iconic but feral animals.
Mr Horsley said the brumby population grows at more than 20% a year.
Excess numbers of brumbies do severe damage to native animal grazing areas, wetlands and riverbanks, with bad erosion reported along tracks used by horses.
He said authorities would have to find a better way to manage the population densities in the national park and control damage in key areas.
Ground shooting cannot be used because it was banned some years ago after animal welfare groups protested against the ‘cruelty’ of it.
Camel culling in the outback has now been responsible for the removal of more than 100,000 of them – around 10% of the population, which is not enough to stabilise it.
As the interior dries out, huge herds are congregating on waterholes where they pollute the water, damage the springs and prevent other animals and birds from getting anywhere near the water.
There are unconfirmed reports that this is also making Aboriginal people sick from drinking and swimming in contaminated water.
The company contracted to do the culling, Ninti One, has called for an extension of funding when its contract concludes at the end of next year, and estimates it’ll cost $4-5 million a year just to keep a lid on the camel population.