The National Feral Pig Action Plan

Western Riverina Pest Program, New South Wales

The Western Riverina Pest Program is the largest feral pig control program in Australia. In recognition of the significant achievements being delivered, the Program was awarded the 2021 Froggatt Award by the Invasive Species Council in March 2022. 

The project covers a 1.4 million ha area that extends along the Lachlan River (south of Hillston to the junction with the Murrumbidgee River) and along the Murrumbidgee River west of Hay.

This area covers private land holdings, national parks and state conservation areas across a range of habitat types.

Two large national parks, Yanga National Park, and Kalyarr National Park, as well as the Lachlan Valley state conservation area (formerly Booligal station) are within the project area.

What's been achieved

  • Effective collaboration between public and private land managers in feral pig management is being achieved from this project.
  • Since 2016, a total of 43,608 feral pigs have been removed from the project area.
  • Aerial population surveys have been conducted since 2016.
  • Based on data obtained from the aerial surveys, control activities have reduced the population density from 11.2 pigs/km2 in 2017 to 0.88 pigs/km2 in 2020.

Background of Program

The Western Riverina Pig Project was initiated in response to NSW Farmers’ members raising concerns about feral pig impacts across the region with Local Land Services (LLS) management.

Impacts caused by feral pigs include

  • Predation of livestock, particularly newborn lambs
  • Spreading of disease
  • Reduction in crop yields
  • Environmental damage to wetlands, the Great Cumbung Swamp, Lowbidgee floodplain
  • Water quality
  • Threatened species – Plains Wanderer bird (Pedionomus torquatus).

 

In July 2020, the scope of the programs expanded to include deer and its name was changed from the Western Riverina Pig Project to the Western Riverina Pest Project.

Who's involved?

This coordinated, strategic, large-scale project is a joint initiative, led by Riverina Local Land Services, in collaboration with:

  • Murray Local Land Services
  • Western Local Land Services
  • National Parks and Wildlife Service
  • Department of Planning and Environment NSW
  • Department of Primary Industries NSW
  • Private land holdings (187 in total) managed by 102 landholders
  • Landcare NSW
  • Nari Nari Tribal Council
  • The Nature Conservancy

Activities being conducted

Integrated management including aerial shooting, and the primary on-ground methods of baiting with 1080 and trapping are used.

In 2016, an initial aerial survey of the feral pig population was conducted, using helicopters fitted with infrared thermal cameras and 4K videos, to determine the baseline population.

This data was used to develop a plan, identify target areas and enable the effectiveness of control activities on pig populations over time to be measured and evaluated.

The area was then divided into three zones – low, medium and high priority – based on feral pig populations present and impacts being experienced by land managers.

Annual surveys have been conducted since the project’s inception to monitor population change.

Infra-red thermal surveys have been performed on 18 x 10km2 survey blocks (180,000ha in total) in high priority zones (involving 45 landholders) using standardised methodology.

These are conducted annually in July-August to identify hotspots as well as non-compliant landholders who are not meeting their General Biosecurity Duty.

Feral pigs being picked up by the thermal camera survey

Thermal assisted aerial culling (TAAC) was trialled on three properties in the Lowbidgee/Lachlan River region in June 2021 as a joint initiative of Riverina Local Land Services and the Department of Primary Industries Vertebrate Pest Research Unit (DPI VPRU).

This method is being successfully used in New Zealand to identify and manage low-density pest populations in areas of inhospitable terrain and vegetative cover.

TAAC is also being successfully applied on Kangaroo Island as part of the eradication program underway for feral pigs. Further information on this program can be found here.

The Western Riverina Pest Project is now focussing on capacity building of land managers to carry out integrated and regular on-ground best practice management, using a combination of baiting and trapping, in coordinated programs with neighbouring properties.

This is needed as aerial culling cannot be relied upon by landholders to fully replace regular, on-ground management actions.

Licensed and experienced pest controllers have been recruited by Local Land Services to train landholders, support increased participation of land managers in group activities, guide the implementation of integrated best practice management program and monitor feral pig activity.

Local Land Services will continue to monitor non-compliant land managers posing a threat to the success of the program and support landholders to overcome barriers to adoption of primary control methods.

Research to understand the movement of feral pigs during aerial shooting campaigns is being undertaken by the NSW DPI VPRU. A total of 33 feral pigs were fitted with GPS tracking collars in the Lowbidgee and Booligal regions.

Data from the first deployment in March 2021 and thermal assisted culling study conducted in June 2021 is now being analysed.

This information will also provide useful insights to assist with control of feral pigs in the event of an exotic disease, including African swine fever, entering Australia.

DNA samples– Genotyping of pig populations forms part of the African Swine Fever (ASF) preparedness program. Samples collected were used to determine connectedness between sub-populations of feral pigs. This information could be used to assist with planning of eradication or containment in the event of an exotic disease incursion in Australia.

Disease prevalence– Blood samples have been collected to determine presence of leptospirosis and brucellosis. Expanding the sampling program is planned for the future.

Funding

The project has been supported by funding from the Commonwealth and NSW Governments.

In the media

Further Information

Contact

Suzie Holbery, WRPP Project Coordinator and Senior Biosecurity Officer, Riverina Local Land Services – suzie.holbery@lls.nsw.go.au

Michael Leane, Manager Biosecurity and Emergency Services, Riverina Local Land Services – Michael.leane@lls.nsw.gov.au

Figures have been supplied by Western Riverina Pest Program and NSW Government Local Land Services.