There are currently almost more feral pigs in Australia than there are people. Farmers across Queensland have been battling to control pest animals across the board for many years but are particularly concerned that right now the number of feral pigs seem- to be exploding.
Many farmers are reporting that they are seeing more feral pigs than they have seen in a decade, and that there are feral pigs turning up in areas of the state that they have not often been found in previous years.
Drought-breaking rain and above average wet seasons in many regions have provided perfect conditions for feral pig breeding and birth rates are booming with experts estimating the national population could be as high as 24 million and growing rapidly.
This is concerning for a number of reasons. Feral pigs cause extensive harm to farm enterprises destroying crops, damaging irrigation systems, disrupting soil structure, preying on lambs and having a negative overall impact on agricultural production.
Environmentally, feral pigs are also extremely damaging as active spreaders of invasive plants, causing soil erosion, degrading wetlands, preying on small mammals and significantly affecting marine turtle populations by eating their eggs.
But pigs can also carry, spread, and transfer many diseases and the management of associated health and biosecurity risks is very difficult when dealing with a large population of feral pigs. Prolific spreaders of noxious weeds, pigs are often active carriers of a range of diseases as well that can infect both livestock and, in some cases, humans.
With recent threats of Japanese encephalitis and foot and mouth disease very much front of mind for farmers across the state, there is growing concern of the biosecurity risk increasing numbers of feral pigs pose for communities and for agriculture.
This year we have seen confirmed cases of JEV in domestic or farmed pigs in several states including Queensland and sadly, we have seen the deaths of five people as result of the virus. It is also reported that JEV has been detected in the feral pig population in the Northern Territory.
Farmers are working with government to try to contain the increasing numbers of feral pigs across the state but much more needs to be done.
While aerial shooting programs and new trapping technologies are proving to have some success, chemical and baiting controls are still the most effective tool in reducing feral pig numbers, particularly in seasonal conditions like those currently being experienced across much of the state.
Farmers need the support of all levels of government to get on top of the burgeoning feral pig numbers in Queensland for the good of industry and the broader community. We need to continue to use the most effective controls we have available to us, including baiting, until new methods are developed and proven to be effective on ground. We need to make sure we are vigilant across all landscapes including national parks which can become breeding grounds for feral pigs if left unchecked.
We must work together and get serious about gaining control of feral pig numbers across Queensland for the good of community health, the environment, regional economies, farming and agriculture.
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