November 28, 2005

Wild Pigs and Dogs Damage Australian Farms

CANBERRA -- Australia has more feral pigs than people and exotic pests cost the economy more than A$700 million a year, damaging farms and the environment, a government report says.

The 18-month inquiry found feral pigs, wild dogs, cats and rabbits were the most destructive pests in Australia, causing havoc for farmers, although feral deer, camels, foxes and horses also posed significant problems.

"It is time to take control of this pressing problem facing Australian farmers," inquiry chairman Alby Schultz told Australia's parliament on Monday.

He said Australia had up to 23 million feral pigs, more than 300,000 feral camels, with the population doubling every eight years, and an estimated 300,000 feral horses.

There were 12 million feral cats, but the report gave no estimate of the number of feral dogs.

Australia's human population is 20.4 million.

The report said feral pigs caused damage worth A$106.5 million a year compared to A$66 million a year for dogs. A single wild dog could cause between A$50,000 and A$120,000 worth of damage to farm animals in a year, it said.

Schultz's report called for the national government and six state governments to work together to stamp out feral pests, and to allow aerial baits to be dropped for wild pigs and dogs in the worst affected areas.

Inquiry member Dick Adams said more could be done to commercially harvest feral pests for food and fur. The report said wild pig meat exports already earned between A$3 million and A$5 million a year, while wild possum meat is sent to China.

"I had the opportunity to try camel steak while in Western Australia," Adams told parliament, saying there could be a local market for camel meat if chefs could find a way of making it tasty enough.