Feral Animal Control
Feral goats - eradicated
Faure Island Sanctuary
The word ‘feral’ typically refers to a non-native domestic animal that has escaped from captivity (e.g. feral goat or feral cat). However, here we use the term liberally to encompass all introduced animals, including those that have not been domesticated or were released deliberately (e.g. European fox and rabbit).
The unique flora and fauna of the Australian continent had evolved in isolation over millions of years. However, the last 200 years of European settlement has seen the introduction of over 130 species of introduced animal, some of which have never established, but many of which have colonised the continent. The most significant of these pest animals include the now familiar European rabbit, European fox, feral cat, feral goat, feral pig and cane toad.
Feral animals have caused extinctions of native species and dramatic changes to their habitat, much of which is irreversible. For example, many of our threatened mammals are either extinct (e.g. Lesser Stick-nest Rat, Crescent Nailtail Wallaby), occur naturally only on offshore islands where feral animals do not occur (e.g. Rufous Hare-wallaby), or have declined to less than 10 % of their former mainland range (e.g. Bilby, Quokka), often as a direct result of predation by European foxes and feral cats. Native species now have to compete with feral animals for food, habitat and shelter. Feral goats and European rabbits can overgraze habitat to such an extent that native plants can no longer reproduce, and what little vegetative cover remains, is inadequate to provide a refuge from predators. Feral animals are also host to a range of diseases, such as toxoplasmosis, which is carried by feral cats, and has caused the death of native species such as the Eastern Barred Bandicoot. The introduction of feral animals has irrevocably changed the Australian environment.
In Australia the diseases and natural predators that regulate feral animal populations in their place of origin are absent, and many of the feral species are highly fecund. They can therefore multiply rapidly when conditions are favourable. No feral animal has been eradicated from the Australian mainland despite a range of control efforts that have included more conventional techniques such as trapping, shooting, baiting, and vermin-proof fencing, as well as novel biological control techniques, such as mosquito-borne viruses (myxomatosis), immuno-contraception and animal-specific toxins.
AWC is implementing innovative management techniques to minimise the impact of feral animals at each of its sanctuaries. For example:
- The exclusion of foxes and cats from Karakamia and Yookamurra sanctuaries has seen threatened native mammal numbers increase to the extent that surplus animals are now being used to re-stock other conservation areas, including National Parks.
- Feral cats have been eradicated from Faure Island in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. This is the third largest island in the world where this has been achieved, and has paved the way for the reintroduction of a suite of threatened mammal species.
- A feral goat control program at Mt Gibson has contributed to the recovery of significant vegetation communities and declared rare flora.
AWC is a participant in the Australasian Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, with the aim of establishing a demonstration site at Mt Gibson sanctuary to trial techniques for the integrated management of pest species to facilitate wildlife recovery and reconstruction at the landscape scale.
AWC aims to implement effective on-ground management strategies that lead to measurable increases in threatened flora, fauna and ecosystems at all its sanctuaries. The control of feral animals is an integral component of this national vision.
An example of this program can be found at the following AWC sanctuaries;