Feral animals in Australia
Australian Government action
The Australian Government works with the states and territories to develop strategies, undertake research and fund key management activities. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, a number of feral animals are recognised as threats to native animals and plants. The impacts of some feral animals have been listed as Key threatening processes and a threat abatement plan has or may be developed. Some other animals, such as feral camels, are also the subject of national plans for management as Existing Pest Animal of National Significance, (under the Australian Pest Animal Strategy)
Threat abatement plans
- Competition and land degradation by unmanaged goats
- Competition and land degradation by feral rabbits
- Predation by feral cats
- Predation by the European red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
- Predation, competition and lethal toxic ingestion caused by cane toads (Bufo marinus) as a key threatening process under the EPBC Act (public comments on draft TAP closed)
- Predation, habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by feral pigs
- Reduce the impacts of exotic rodents on biodiversity on Australian offshore islands of less than 100 000 hectares
National action plan
Australia’s native plants and animals adapted to life on an isolated continent over millions of years. Since European settlement they have had to compete with a range of introduced animals for habitat, food and shelter. Some have also had to face new predators. These new pressures have also caused a major impact on our country’s soil and waterways and on its native plants and animals.
In Australia, feral animals typically have few natural predators or fatal diseases and some have high reproductive rates. As a result, their populations have not naturally diminished and they can multiply rapidly if conditions are favourable.
Feral animals impact on native species by predation, competition for food and shelter, destroying habitat, and by spreading diseases.
The Rabbit-eared Bandicoot or Bilby needs a constant supply of carbohydrate-rich seeds and roots. Feral animals such as rabbits graze or degrade vegetation that provides food and shelter for them and other native animals. If vegetation is destroyed or eaten by feral animals, the Bilby and other native species are placed under greater pressure. Feral cats and foxes hunt and kill native birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. It is known that this behaviour threatens the survival of many threatened species.
Feral animals can cause soil erosion. While managed domestic livestock can be removed from degraded areas until these areas are revegetated, it is much more difficult to keep feral animals out of these same areas.
Feral animals can carry the same common diseases as domestic animals. They are a constant source of reinfection for wildlife and livestock, which works against efforts to control costly diseases such as tuberculosis. Feral animals are also potential carriers of other animal diseases (such as rabies and foot and mouth disease) and parasites (such as the screw worm fly). So far, these do not occur in Australia. An outbreak among Australia’s wildlife would have an immediate and widespread effect, and would be disastrous for our environment. In some cases it would also be very difficult to control these diseases and parasites if feral animals carried them.
It would be desirable to rid Australia of its worst invasive species, but this is not achievable in most cases.
The objective for managing the majority of established feral animals is to reduce the damage caused by pest species in the most cost-effective manner. This may involve localised eradication, periodic reduction of feral numbers, sustained reduction of feral numbers, removal of the most destructive individuals or exclusion of feral animals from an area. The damage caused by feral animals also needs to be considered in context with other factors, such as land use, climate, weeds and grazing pressure from domestic stock.
There are a number of control methods available for feral animals. These methods include conventional control techniques and biological control. Conventional control methods for feral animals include trapping, baiting, fencing and shooting.
During the implementation of any feral animal control program the guidelines for humane treatment and removal, such as those outlined in the relevant Threat Abatement Plan (see below), should be applied, as well as adhering to animal welfare requirements that apply in each State or Territory. The Australian Government contracted the New South Wales Government to develop model Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures for the humane control of feral animals.
- Development of a model code of practice and standard operating procedures for the humane capture, handling or destruction of feral animals in Australia
Under the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Vertebrate Pest Research Unit, has developed a model for assessing the relative humaneness of pest animal control methods (link is external).