When it comes to controlling pests, it may take many wildlife management tools to get the job done. When it comes to eradicating pests, the job becomes a little bit harder and may require a new tool or non-conventional approach. Eradication is a very difficult task and most of Australia’s feral species will never be eradicated from the mainland, only controlled. However, islands off the coast of mainland Australia do provide an opportunity where careful planning and execution of pest control activities can result in the eradication of feral animals.
A new eradication project was recently the subject of an ABC Landline program. The program discussed a project currently underway to eliminate 300 feral goats from the Great Barrier Reef island of Pelorus Island. The goal was to save the island’s endangered ecosystem by removing the feral goats. This project is quite different and somewhat controversial in the choice of control method to be used. Wild dogs are going to be imported and let loose on the island to eat all the feral goats to save the environment.
Methods of pest control such as trapping and ground and aerial shooting had been tried but dense vegetation cover and difficult terrain prevented a successful outcome. It was time for new ideas and two prominent wild dog researchers suggested a plan. Why not use nature and let wild dogs control the feral goats? Wild dogs are very capable predators that cause much devastation to sheep and goats in livestock settings. The expectation was that wild dogs would do an equally efficient job to feral goats on the confined island.
This wild dog-eat-feral goat project has been tried once before. Although it was successful in eradicating 3000 feral goats from a 70-square-kilometre island within two years, it took a further 10 or so years to eradicate the wild dogs that had been put there. The lesson has been learned, so this time the four desexed male wild dogs to be released on the island will have GPS collars to enable them to be tracked. They will be located and shot once they have eradicated the feral goat population. As a failsafe, each dog will have a capsule of 1080 poison implanted that is timed to release in two years. Once the goats are gone, the wild dogs will follow shortly after, allowing for the ecosystem to rebound and flourish back to its natural state.
As news of this project spread, RSPCA Queensland has taken issue and has joined in with a couple of small local animal protection/rights groups to label the venture cruel. Mark Townend, the RSPCA Queensland CEO, was quoted as saying: “Sticking some wild dogs in a situation where those goats will be eaten, partly eaten and then left to die a horrible, painful death is the wrong attitude for 2016.” That sounds very much like nature to me and although the RSPCA and other animal rights groups want everyone to believe that it’s just like Disney World out there in the fields, parks and forests, it is not. In nature, animals eat animals and one thing for certain is that nature is rarely kind.
A conservation group with experience in removing invasive species from island environments has labelled the project a ‘game changer’, where it could become a potential model to use on other islands. Maybe the RSPCA needs to pull its head in and let the real experts go to work. Like all tools in the pest control toolbox, some will work for a particular situation and others will not. It’s best to use as many pest control tools as possible to gain a desired environmental outcome, whether that is a rifle, bait, trap or even nature.
Update: On August 18, it was announced that the strategy to use poisoned, surgically-sterilised dogs to kill feral goats on Pelorus Island would be scrapped. Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles told Parliament he’d order a stop to the council initiative. He said the dogs threatened the survival of the rare beach stone curlew, a shore bird that is only found in Australia and lays just one egg per year. The order directs that no further dogs be released and that existing dogs be removed within 14 days.