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Collar radio telemetry used to control Feral donkeys in the Pilbara

[September 2013]

Recent targeted on-ground control of feral donkeys using collar radio telemetry on Yandeyarra Aboriginal Reserve in the Pilbara is part of a coordinated surveillance and control program that will reduce pressure on vegetation and waterholes in the area.

Mick Elliott from the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) flew 70 hours of helicopter time to cover an area of 1.26 million hectares to track feral donkeys on the Reserve.

Mr Elliott said the aim was to increase the effectiveness of the current Pilbara feral donkey collar radio telemetry program by plugging a major gap in the spread of radio telemetry collars across the north-western extent of the regional program.

“It was found that the number of donkeys controlled each tracking run was not being significantly reduced as expected and this was due to a low saturation of collars in the area,” he said.

This program was conducted in conjunction with telemetry work completed on neighbouring pastoral leases, giving a landscape approach to managing feral herbivores.

The project increased the number of radio telemetry collars on donkeys on Yandeyarra Aboriginal Reserve from five to 11, saturating the lease area and progressing towards local eradication of donkeys from this area.

Mr Elliott also replaced four established radio telemetry collars which were nearing the end of their battery life, ensuring these can be tracked for a further five years.

“The collars now provide an even distribution across the Yandeyarra Aboriginal Reserve at the recommended distance of 15 km apart, which should rapidly attract any satellite herds or individuals for removal during future tracking runs,” Mr Elliott said.

All collars established or replaced during this project will be active for a further five years, and included in tracking runs untaken by the Pilbara Regional Biosecurity Group in the future.

Whilst in the air, Mick was also able to cull 46 donkeys and 87 camels to relieve total grazing pressure on native vegetation.

Coordinated mapping and data management across tenure has been implemented with consistent data recording systems across the entire Pilbara Judas Donkey program area, including tracklogs of survey areas, waypoints of established collars and their movement across time, and the location of ad-hoc feral herbivores controlled during tracking runs.

A result of the grid surveillance and completed mapping has allowed the program to identify any areas likely to be infested by donkeys and those gaps in the survey areas which will require follow-up surveillance in subsequent programs.

Mr Elliott said he was also able to re-engage with Indigenous partners who had not been involved officially in the program.

By removing these 133 feral animals from the Yandeyarra Aboriginal Reserve, we have reduced the pressure these species are having on the vegetation and water sources.

This will improve the stability and diversity of the vegetation across the area, and protect the natural springs in the hills and ephemeral pools in the Yule and Sherlock Rivers from fouling by these animals.

The project also allowed monitoring of the numbers of other feral animals on the Yandeyarra Aboriginal Reserve, which will inform consultion with the community to remove these pressures from the environment in the future.