Natural resource management experts say any efforts to reduce a rapidly rising feral pig population, as a means of mitigating the spread of livestock diseases in Australia, must be sustained and strategic, not done by lone rangers.
The plea to act as one is made with the knowledge that, thanks to the high reproductive rate of pigs, plus their adaptability and mobility, an annual reduction rate of at least 70 per cent of the population must be achieved to prevent them from taking advantage of gaps and rapidly rebuilding.
Katter's Australian Party MPs have been among those describing the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Indonesia as a wake-up call for state and federal governments to stop procrastinating on taking action on feral pigs.
"Pigs carry, spread and transfer many diseases, with the pig population reaching up to 25 million in Australia; the concern is that this would accelerate the spread of FMD, causing devastation to our beef and dairy industries," Hill MP Shane Knuth said.
Although the National Feral Pig Action Plan says studies have indicated that feral pigs are unlikely to play a significant role in the spread of foot and mouth disease in Australia, its management coordinator is taking the approach that it's better to be safe than sorry.
Dr Heather Channon said modelling on the potential role of feral pigs in FMD outbreaks in northern Australian pastoral settings showed that feral pigs would not be able to sustain an FMD epidemic on their own, and that higher concentrations and movements of cattle were more significant factors in the maintenance of an outbreak.
While their presence slightly exacerbated FMD outbreaks, their role was found to be much less important than domestic cattle.
As long as FMD was controlled in cattle, it died out in feral pigs without further action.
"That said, the study showed that smaller and shorter outbreaks resulted when FMD was controlled in feral pigs at the same time as cattle," Ms Channon said. "It was concluded that both cattle and feral pigs should be targeted for control to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible."
She said the problem was that people often didn't know how many feral pigs were out there or where to best focus their time and efforts.
"It's been proven that working with your neighbours is the best way," she said. "Work cooperatively or pigs and other feral animals soon find holes in your defence."
That was backed up by the management team at Desert Channels Queensland, which has had feral pigs in its sights for years and wants effective tools at its disposal.
Its 67 monitoring sites, both in the north from Torrens Creek across to Boulia and Headingly, and on waterholes throughout the Channel Country, are showing 'massive' rises in numbers since October last year as feed and water have all lined up in their favour.
DCQ operations manager Simon Wiggins said the pig breeding factories on the lower Diamantina, throughout the Channel Country and in the higher rainfall parts around Torrens Creek were churning the pigs out at present.
"The pace of growth is well beyond what growers can keep up with," he said.
It's an environment where 400 pigs shot in a day is seen as being on the lower end of the scale.
"It sounds depressing but landholders have been doing their best for years - they're dedicated and diligent, and the situation could be a lot worse," Mr Wiggins said. "The point is, you can't have a big 'let's go and shoot everything' effort; you need sustained control."
In an environment of little money, timing is also important to maximise the funds available.
DCQ staff member Doug Allpass highlighted three properties south of Windorah that had initiated a joint cull prior to Christmas last year, which consisted of 84pc pregnant sows.
"We've just heard of another shoot where pigs were caught on an island in the Channel Country flood, and the landholder took advantage of the situation," he said.
DCQ CEO Leanne Kohler said that in the current climate of urgent action, funds were badly needed to coordinate control.
"We don't need to research any more - we've done that," she said.
"Our north and south monitoring lines are pretty mature, so we don't need any more money to be directed to monitoring.
"But the worst case would be uncoordinated shoots - we want no-one excluded."
Apart from federal funds expended last year as part of the Disaster Flood Recovery Program, which saw 30,000 pigs eliminated, Ms Kohler said the last time they'd seen government funding for feral pigs was in 2018.
"All our work is funded through the DCQ Foundation," she said.
"The best we can do for landholders is offer them up to 1000l of avgas and ammunition.
"They pay for the helicopter hire and a qualified shooter."
The first face-to-face meeting for the National Feral Pig Action Plan took place in Darwin in June, which had attracting investment as a key theme.
"The NFPAP's implementation committee (is) very aware of increasing feral pig populations across many areas of Australia in response to favourable seasonal conditions over the past couple of years and the many challenges that this presents," its July newsletter said.
KAP has been calling on the state government to immediately abandon its plans to ban CSSP poison used on feral pig populations.
It says now is not the time to reduce the number of tools available to manage feral pig populations, but DCQ's Mr Wiggins said they'd found participation rates in aerial shoots had much higher participation rates than poisoning.
"I think it's because it's easier to coordinate, and see results," he said.
KAP also wants to see feral pig hunters given permits to access national parks and state forests, a bounty program introduced, grants for landholders to combat feral pigs, and more funds for aerial shooting.
Ms Channon said the issue of hunting permits was a state one, and that any grant program would have to be a strategic one.
"A lot of what's proposed is reactive," she said. "Even aerial shooting is part of the strategy but not the whole answer."
On the topic of bounties, Ms Channon said there was little evidence to show that it was an effective way of managing populations.
Based at Blackall, CW Qld, where I've raised a family, run Merino sheep and beef cattle, and helped develop a region - its history, tourism, education and communications.
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