In recent years, New South Wales has been grappling with a severe crisis as wild pigs wreak havoc across the state. With heavier-than-average rainfall triggering a population explosion, these feral beasts are causing widespread destruction to livestock, crops, and posing health risks to humans.
Farmers from the Central West to Queensland and the coastal regions are witnessing an alarming surge in pig numbers, despite their efforts to control the situation through baiting, trapping, and aerial shooting. Tom Dunlop, a farmer from Coolah, describes the situation as waves of pigs emerging everywhere, even in areas where they were previously unseen. Urgent action is now imperative.
Aerial shoots conducted by the Local Land Services have resulted in the killing of 63,000 pigs during this fiscal year alone, with farmers resorting to self-funded helicopter runs, eliminating 300 or more pigs per hour. The financial toll inflicted by these creatures is staggering, with millions of dollars’ worth of damage to crops and livestock. In the northwest region of the state during 2020-21, they caused $47 million in losses, including the destruction of 11,000 lambs, as reported by research group AgEcon. Since then, pig numbers and agricultural losses have only increased.
Tom Dunlop himself had to prematurely harvest his sorghum crop as the pigs voraciously devoured it, resulting in a loss of $60,000. Their relentless appetite, consuming an acre of grain per night, forced him to resort to helicopter shoots, costing an additional $7,500. Farmers face the devastating reality of witnessing their livelihoods being taken away, while grappling with drought conditions and the urgent need to feed their animals. Regrettably, little government assistance is available, leaving farmers to bear the burden alone.
The Local Land Services claims to have increased aerial shooting by 80 percent this fiscal year compared to the previous one, covering over 6.6 million hectares through 1900 hours of flying. However, reducing the feral pig population, which experienced ideal breeding conditions in recent years, will require sustained and coordinated efforts by land managers across all tenures, spanning months or even years.
NSW Farmers’ policy head, Kathy Rankin, stresses the need for additional resources to aid in controlling feral pig numbers. While the Local Land Services is well-positioned to coordinate control efforts, their current short-term funding, aimed at preventing foot-and-mouth disease, will expire on June 30. Farmers like Laurie Chaffey in Tamworth spend hours each day attempting to gain control over pig numbers on their properties, diligently checking traps, setting them, and deploying bait. Coordinated and comprehensive assistance is urgently needed to address this mounting crisis.
Reports from affected areas reveal the grim reality of pigs attacking ewes that become trapped in waterholes. These massive creatures evoke fear among farmers, making their efforts to control the situation even more challenging. The destruction caused by feral pigs extends beyond agricultural losses, as they ravage soil, endanger native species like turtles, and carry diseases that threaten livestock and humans alike.
Christopher O’Bryan, an ecologist from the University of Queensland, underscores the urgency of the situation, emphasizing that feral pigs are one of the most pressing pest concerns in the country. Their ability to work in groups and destroy vast expanses of land liken them to destructive tractors. The impact is not only financial, resulting in lost revenue and reduced crop yields, but also poses significant environmental and cultural concerns.
Given the magnitude of the pig population, experts suggest shifting the focus towards protecting specific assets rather than indiscriminate culling. In acknowledgment of the rising feral pig numbers, Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty recently appointed Dr. Marion Healy as the Interim Biosecurity