Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is working with the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) to develop strategies for an integrated regional approach to reduce feral pig densities in the Kimberley.
The project, supported by Rangelands NRM with funding from the Australian Government National Landcare Programme, is bringing together the expertise of the two organisations to survey, record and reduce the number of feral pigs active at Charnley River Artesian Range Wildlife Sanctuary. In implementing and measuring the effect of the feral pig control at Charnley River, the team will develop management strategies that can be applied to surrounding pastoral properties and prevent invasion on conservation properties like AWC’s Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Threatened Species Scientific Committee identified that feral pigs are having a direct negative impact on at least eighteen nationally listed threatened species, including mammals, birds, reptiles and plants.
According to a recent Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) report and anecdotal evidence from local land managers, feral pigs are spreading across the North Kimberley and are causing damage and degradation to land and habitats.
Dr James Smith, Senior Ecologist NW for AWC says habitat changes due to feral pigs include destruction of plants, changed floristic composition, reduced regeneration of plants; changed soil structure, increased invasion and spread of weeds, increased access for other predator species, reduced amount and quality of water available, spread of exotic earth worms and creation of habitat suitable for disease vectors.
“Feral pigs also consume bird chicks, reptile and bird eggs, frogs, soil organisms, earthworms and other invertebrates, carrion, underground fungi, fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs and plant foliage,” Dr Smith said.
Cass Wittwer, Veterinary Officer from DAWR says the project aims to prevent and mitigate this significant environmental threat before it escalates into a national issue.
“Feral pigs are also known vectors of Foot and Mouth (or Hoof and Mouth) Disease, amongst other significant exotic diseases present in neighbouring countries. Should an outbreak of foot and mouth disease occur within the northern Kimberley feral pig population and be transferred to some of the managed stock – the economic impact would likely be in the billions of dollars,” Ms Wittwer explained.
It is important for us to know how many pigs are in the area, sample them to check for disease, and ultimately reduce numbers to reduce the overall threat to the environment and agricultural industry.
Dr Smith said the pig control will be conducted in known areas of infestation, mainly around water points, as well as through opportunistic pig culling during other operations in the area such as fire management, fauna surveys.
Rangelands NRM is fostering this collaboration by the AWC and DAWR and encouraging the future involvement of other partners.