Foxes, feral pigs shot during three-day hunt as farmers band together to combat feral pests
Feral pest management can only benefit from an “integrated community approach” say farmers who just took part in a three-day hunt in Western Australia’s south-west.
The event attracted recreational shooters from other parts of the state, including Perth, with 450 foxes, 59 rabbits, 11 feral cats and 11 pigs tallied at the conclusion of the hunt.
The issue of feral pests is one of growing concern to farmers across WA with reports of damaged crops and attacks on livestock rising.
Mayanup merino stud farmer Doug Corker said the event was “vital” given the rising value of sheep and lambs and proliferation of aggressive foxes, in particular.
“It’s a serious ongoing issue in this part of the state, especially when you see the results of big lambs up to 10 months old being taken to pieces by foxes,” Mr Corker said.
“Their numbers are only getting worse too, mainly due to poisons like 1080 baits not working as effectively as they used to.”
Mr Corker said the issue had become so bad he now maintained a vigil throughout lambing season to ward off foxes.
“I’ll go out every second hour from sunset to sunrise just to keep an eye on things, but the foxes are there all the time,” Mr Corker said.
“You’ll take the ones out on your property and they’ll just come in from your neighbour’s property.
“That’s why you need an integrated community approach like this to make a go of it. Every district around here should do something similar.”
Pest management a ‘supplement’ to shooting
Information supplied by WA’s Department of Agriculture and Food states there is strong evidence to suggest foxes “have caused the decline of many small to medium-sized species of Australian native mammals”.
The animals were introduced into Victoria from Britain in about 1845 to enable settlers to take part in fox hunts.
Farmers currently employ several methods to control the booming population, including exclusion fencing and fumigation of fox dens.
The hunting event’s co-organiser and farmer Marcus Gifford said while such measures were a good “supplement” to control methods, the targeted hunt was a good way “to get on the front foot” against all feral pests including pigs, rabbits and cats.
“The foxes in particular are responsible for killing hundreds, if not thousands, of lambs a year,” Mr Gifford said.
“It’s hard to quantify the numbers but once you start to get out at night and start observing them, you really notice the damage they are causing.”
Mr Gifford said raised awareness of feral pest numbers could only benefit farmers struggling against them.
“The methods that are available to help us control those numbers is a good supplement to events like this,” Mr Gifford said.
“But like anything, more awareness brings a better result and gets everyone on board and working to the same end result.”
Other species a growing concern
The hunt also netted rabbits, feral cats and feral pigs, numbers of which are said to be in the “tens of thousands” and growing.
Some farmers present, who did not wish to be interviewed, said illegal hunters were also causing “just as much damage” as the pigs, often breaking fences, trespassing and leaving pig carcasses where they fell.
Brian Chambers of the Blackwood Basin Group said populations of feral pigs were appearing in new areas across the south-west due to in part to their ability to “double their population within 18 months”.
“Feral pigs have a very high rate of reproduction, they grow very quickly, reach sexual maturity at a young age and can produce a lot of offspring,” Mr Chambers said.
“In that sense, we are fighting their biology in a lot of ways.”