Feral Pigs in Australia

The first pigs arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788, and ‘Captain Cookers’ have been recorded as thriving on Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula for more than a century. Feral pigs are found right through rural Australia, except in areas where there is little or no permanent waterholes, or the water is protected from pig infestation by a large expanse of waterless country. The natural lakes on the Barkly Tableland are a good example of a water system that has been protected from feral pigs, because it is surrounded by a considerable amount of country devoid of permanent or even semi-permanent watercourses. Most ferals are black but pink, ginger and spotted pigs are also common. In hard country pig’s tusks are worn down considerably but in softer wetland areas their tusks can reach an impressive size.

Feral pigs cause immense damage to the natural environment, especially in wetlands. They destroy the natural habitat when wallowing and rooting around in the soil, eat the contents of ground-nesting bird’s nests and any other wildlife they can get their snouts on, and feral pigs carry a range of serious diseases – for example leptospirosis, tuberculosis, etc. If even more serious exotic diseases arrive in Australia, feral pigs will make them impossible to eradicate.

There is a strong demand for wild game meat in particular European countries, such as Germany. It is a lucrative industry however the value of exports would still fall many millions short of the cost of the environmental damage caused by pigs. It has been argued by some that recreational and professional pig shooters help keep pig numbers in check, but in fact the reverse is probably true. Most shooters only harvest the large saleable pigs and leave the small pigs to grow larger and breed up; meanwhile disturbing the remaining pigs and making them harder to catch and kill. Whereas landholders are intent on complete eradication, aiming to kill every single feral pig at the first opportunity.

There has also been research and DNA testing on feral pigs that suggests that some pigs have been transported hundreds of kilometres by pig shooters, presumably to introduce them into areas where they were scarce or non-existent. Because pigs are a declared pest, unauthorised transport is illegal, as is releasing pigs into the wild, and evidence that live feral pigs have been shifted such long distances is a huge biosecurity risk.

Like goats, harvesting pigs is not an intelligent long-term solution. All introduced animals should either be farmed under strictly controlled conditions, as is the case for sheep and cattle, or eradicated entirely, for the good of the natural environment and because large populations of feral animals such as pigs make disease control difficult.

The ‘Feral’ website, run by the Pest Animal Control CRC, has a summary of information about feral pigs in Australia.

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