We are working with Indigenous land managers in northern Australia to develop a systematic approach to managing feral animal problems. Together we're improving on existing control activities to more effectively reduce impacts on the environment and important cultural sites in the region.

The challenge

Quantifying the size of the problem

Feral pigs are having a significant impact on important ecosystems across the Top End and pose a biosecurity threat to agricultural enterprises.  ©Brian Ross

Cape York has one of the largest feral pig populations in Australia, threatening biodiversity, waterways, Great Barrier Reef catchments and turtle rookeries; as well as important Indigenous cultural sites and traditional resources. Feral cattle are also present through the landscape across Cape York. In Arnhem Land, feral pigs and a large population of feral water buffalo are having similar impacts. In addition to the environmental and cultural impacts, all of these feral animals pose a significant biosecurity risk, through spread of disease, and are a threat to agricultural industries in the Top End.

In Cape York, we have quantified the scale of the feral pig problem and established that current methods such as baiting, trapping and aerial shooting cannot eradicate them. Biodiversity impacts remain high despite significant efforts from land managers, and significant state and federal government investment. However, there have been success stories resulting from more targeted approaches and we are working with our local partners to identify what the key elements of success are and to work out ways to scale-up that impact.

Our response

Collaborating to find solutions and support Indigenous enterprises

Our researchers have been working alongside local Indigenous communities and regional organisations for more than six years to investigate the biodiversity impacts of feral animals in Cape York and to monitor and measure the outcomes of feral pig control activities. More recently we've extended this work to look at the impacts of other feral animals, such as cattle and buffalo, and entered into a partnership in Arnhem Land with the support of the local land managers there.

Our partners in northern Australia are:

  • Kalan Enterprises in eastern Cape York
  • Aak Puul Ngantam (APN) in western Cape York
  • Balkanu Cape York Regional Development Corporation
  • Djelk Land and Sea Rangers in eastern Arnhem Land.

Together we are developing a better understanding of feral pig, buffalo and cattle populations, their numbers, movements and impacts, to support the development of more efficient control activities. As a result of this ongoing work, unique collaborations have developed bringing together CSIRO's scientific expertise with Indigenous land managers and regional Indigenous organisations. These collaborations not only contribute scientific outcomes but also support the Indigenous communities and enterprises that are based in these regions.

CSIRO has provided evidence-based methods to underpin successful, sustainable Indigenous enterprises based on land and sea country. Our contributions include efficient monitoring methods and technology that can be used by Indigenous ranger groups, as well as new and more strategic ways of culling and controlling pigs before they decimate important environmental and cultural sites.

A coastal lagoon after being visited by feral pigs.  ©Brian Ross

Current projects

  • Using new GPS and environmental sensor technologies, we are tagging and connecting feral animals to the internet to track their movements through the landscape in real time. This allows us to model and predict their behaviour so we can better target control strategies.
  • Protecting nesting sea turtles in western Cape York from predation by feral pigs, through the design of targeted control strategies.
  • Studying the ecosystems of waterholes to better understand what impacts feral animals are having and how to protect them.

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