Project aims to unmask pests

24 Sep, 2003 10:00 PM

THE Department of Agriculture is drawing on the experience of its staff to map some of the State's most troublesome feral pests.

Speaking at the Feral Pig Conference in Mt Barker, research officer Andrew Woolnough said understanding the distribution and abundance of feral animals was vital to prepare for potential outbreaks of disease in animals.

"Pest animals such as feral pigs, feral deer and feral goats can act as important reservoirs in spreading exotic diseases such as foot and mouth disease," Mr Woolnough said.

Mr Woolnough said agricultural enterprises generally had a good understanding of livestock numbers and location, but there was a lack of documented knowledge of high risk, free-ranging pest animals.

He said the Vertebrate Pest Mapping Project aimed to cost-effectively obtain the information from experienced departmental officers of the Department of Agriculture and CALM.

"We have interviewed more than 50 biosecurity and vertebrate pest experts who possess important local knowledge on animal pests with potential to spread and maintain exotic diseases," Mr Woolnough said.

"The officers were asked to map the populations of feral pigs, feral deer, feral goats and wild dogs in the various districts of the State's agricultural region based on a set of standard abundance definitions."

He said the information was used to develop a GIS-database and enabled the production of maps on the distribution and abundance of the four pest species at the scale of individual properties.

He said the results could also be used to target and improve management strategies for areas with significant vertebrate pest problems such as feral pigs in the South West.

"The mapping project has highlighted the presence of feral pigs in more localities than originally expected," Mr Woolnough said.

"By overlaying the abundance criteria, we can see what areas have high numbers of feral pigs and where a concerted effort is needed to manage the problem."

The Vertebrate Pest Mapping Project, funded by the Agriculture Department and the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture Forestry & Fisheries, has been extended to investigate the rangelands.


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