Riverina pest program snatches award for removal of 40,000 feral pigs

Media Release |

The Western Riverina Pest Project has been awarded a national Froggatt Award for undertaking the largest feral pig control program in Australia.

The annual awards, named in honour of the Australian entomologist who was a lone voice lobbying against the deliberate release of cane toads in the 1930s, recognise outstanding achievements in Australia’s fight against environmental weeds, diseases and pest animals. 

‘The project is being recognised in the award’s control and eradication category for its innovative use of emerging technology across 1.4 million hectares of privately- and publicly-owned lands,’ said Invasive Species Council CEO, Andrew Cox. 

The Western Riverina Pest Project covers 1.4 million hectares along the lower Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers in NSW. Photos: NSW Government Local Land Services

The Western Riverina Project began in 2016 with focus on feral pig control along the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers in NSW.

‘It is the largest feral pig control program in Australia,’ said Suzanne Holbery, a biosecurity officer in the Riverina region who nominated the project. 

‘Landholders in the region reported feral pig numbers rising at an alarming rate, resulting in an increase in stock losses, particularly newborn lambs. The NSW Farmers branch contacted Local Land Services from both Riverina and Western regions to coordinate a program and implement a targeted strategic plan.’

Representatives from Riverina, Western and Murray Local Land Services, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the NSW Department of Primary Industries form the project’s governing steering committee.

‘This nil-tenure approach over a vast area, involving 187 holdings and multiple government departments, should serve as an example of the benefits that can be achieved when private and public land managers work together to control pest species,’ said Mr Cox.

Feral pigs in West Riverina pictured by a remote camera array installed to monitor their activity. Photo: NSW Government Local Land Services

‘The project area covers a number of fragile wetland ecosystems, home to numerous threatened species,’ said Ms Holbery.

‘We used infra-red thermal cameras mounted to a helicopter to gauge how the feral pig population was tracking during annual surveys.’

‘Thanks to these surveys, we can confirm that we have dramatically reduced the abundance of feral pigs and curbed their rate of reproduction.

‘Between June 2016 and June 2021, 43,608 feral pigs were removed from the program area and the population density was reduced from a peak of 11.2 pigs per square kilometer in 2017 down to 0.88 pigs in 2020.’

Thermal camera surveying was a key part of the project’s success. Photo: NSW Government Local Land Services

The project integrated a suite of other innovative technology into their feral pig control, including remote camera monitoring, sampling feral pig DNA and blood to minimise disease outbreaks and livestock exclusion bait containment yards that allow pigs access without harming cattle or merino sheep livestock.  

Results from the DNA sampling, conducted through the CSIRO, have been incorporated into Australia’s African swine fever preparedness strategy.

‘Thermal camera technology was also trialled during aerial shooting programs to assist shooters in locating feral animals hidden from our standard view,’ said Ms Holbery.

GPS tracking collars were fitted to 33 feral pigs to measure their dispersal in response to aerial shooting.

GPS tracking collars were carefully fitted to 33 feral pigs to measure how they disperse in response to aerial shooting. NSW Government Local Land Services Biosecurity Officer.

‘There are also feral deer and goats in the region which are targeted during aerial shooting programs on consenting properties. It is the program’s intention to increase ground-based control of these pest species as well as reinvigorate coordinated fox baiting groups,’ said Ms Holbery.

‘The removal of these feral animals from West Riverina protects livestock from predation and disease, and improves the health of the many wetlands and native species that exist across the landscape,’ said Ms Holbery.

‘The project demonstrates exemplary practice of using multiple tools to achieve successful and collaborative invasive species management and the protection of nationally significant wetlands in the West Riverina region,’ said Mr Cox. 

View All Froggatt Awards 2021 >>

Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]