Feral deer in Tasmania

Tasmania and Victoria remain the last two states in Australia that continue to treat deer as a hunting resource instead of managing them as the pest species they have become.

Feral deer destroy native vegetation, trample plants and ring-bark young trees. They foul waterholes, cause soil erosion, spread weeds and increase the potential for transmitting diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

Tasmania’s population of fallow deer has more than tripled since the 1970s and by 2023 is likely to increase by about 40%. It has been estimated that by mid-century the population could exceed one million.

In 2020 the Tasmanian Government released the results of an aerial survey of deer across the introduced animal’s core range within the state. The results put the number of feral deer in this area alone at 54,000 – the survey didn’t cover the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, northwest of the state or down south and on Bruny Island. All areas known to have feral deer populations.

The results suggest earlier studies warning of increasing feral deer numbers in Tasmania had underestimated the growth and spread of the total deer population.

Deer damage

Feral deer are damaging farming infrastructure and causing crop loss through browsing.

Deer populations are now threatening the world famous Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and there are reports of them moving outside of their range and into new areas across Tasmania, including Bruny Island, the outskirts of Launceston and Hobart, Mole Creek, Deloraine and Dover.

In response, the Invasive Species Council, supported by the Bob Brown Foundation, prepared Feral Deer Control: A Strategy for Tasmania. The strategy contains 28 actions to reduce the impacts of feral deer on environmental, social, cultural and economic values.

The Tasmanian Government released a new ‘Wild Fallow Deer Management Plan’ in November 2021. In our submission to the draft plan we are urging the government to ensure that:

  • Deer are managed as a pest animal in line with the rest of Australia.
  • Deer no longer receive special protection under the Tasmanian Wildlife Regulations.
  • Surveys of deer encroachment on the TWWHA are completed and acted on.
  • Deer containment lines are drawn at the edge of the TWWHA and other suitable boundaries and resources secured to ensure that all deer beyond containment lines are eradicated.
  • Deer are eradicated from Bruny Island within two years.

Impacts on Tasmanian wildlife

Fallow deer can harm habitat for many native Tasmanian species.

  • Ground dwelling or nesting birds may be threatened by trampling of eggs and/or nests by fallow deer, and ground dwelling marsupials may be threatened by competition for food or trampling of habitat by deer.

Susceptible Tasmanian native species

  • Birds: Brown quail, painted button quail, ground parrot, spotted quail-thrush and Richard’s pipit.
  • Mammals: Long-nosed potoroo, bettong, pademelon, red-necked wallaby, eastern-grey kangaroo, common wombat, spotted-tailed quoll, eastern quoll, Tasmanian devil, dusky antechinus, white-footed dunnart, southern brown bandicoot, eastern-barred bandicoot.

There are also listed threatened plants, threatened invertebrates and threatened vegetation communities that may be threatened by trampling and grazing by fallow deer.

Source: Jensz, K. and Finley, L. (2013) Species profile for the Fallow Deer, Dama dama. Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants Pty Ltd. Hobart, Tasmania.

Impacts on landscape restoration

Greening Australia estimates that 30 per cent of its $6 million budget for the Midlands Restoration Program was spent on deer control and mitigation from deer rubbing and ringbarking trees, deer proof fencing, deer damage costs and deer monitoring.

Environmental impacts

The federal government has identified that feral deer have major impacts on the natural environment:

  • Destroying native vegetation.
  • Trampling plants, grazing, and ring-barking young trees.
  • Fouling waterholes.
  • Causing soil erosion.
  • Spreading weeds.
  • Increasing potential for transmitting diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

In 2016 the Tasmanian Legislative Council held an inquiry into Wild Fallow Deer in that state with particular reference to:

  • Environmental impacts on public and private land.
  • Any impact on commercial activities on private land.
  • The partly protected status of fallow deer under the Wildlife (General) Regulations 2010.
  • Commercial opportunities for the use of wild population stocks.
  • Any matters incidental thereto.

The inquiry found:

  • There is limited information on population density and dispersal of deer in Tasmania.
  • Deer can cause extensive damage to commercial and native plant species and research on wider damage limited.
  • Sensitive biodiversity areas are being damaged.
  • Deer have spread into sensitive conservation areas including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and conservation areas on Bruny Island.
  • The Tasmanian Deer Advisory Committee is primarily focused on interests of hunters.

Feral deer are probably Australia’s worst emerging pest problem, causing damage to the natural environment and agricultural businesses..

If you've seen fallow deer while bushwalking, fishing, or even in your neighbourhood report the sighting to the Tassie Deer Spotters iNaturalist page.

More than a million deer now trample Victoria’s national parks, high country, coastal country and the Mallee. They are set to become one of Victoria’s most damaging pest animal invaders.