More than 50 animal species have been introduced into Australia since the late 1800s and are now considered invasive animals. Many compete directly with livestock production in that they consume pasture. Some species can spread animal disease, contribute to land degradation and soil erosion, spread weeds and cause a decline in the biodiversity of pastures. Others prey on livestock and native wildlife.
- Rabbits, feral pigs, foxes and wild dogs are of greatest concern to cattle, sheep and lamb producers.
Although costs vary with reports, in 2009, feral animals cost the livestock industries around $280m. They damage and threaten the landscape, agriculture and industries. In 2010 a survey reported that more than two thirds of producers sampled (68%) had a feral animal problem on their property.
Pest animals impact in 2 ways - there are production impacts but also environment (eg pig damage to soils, rabbits to pasture and biodiversity, that then impacts on production). Environmental impacts are much harder to quantify - as are social impacts (eg stress caused by constantly having to deal with animal attacked by dogs).
Prevention is better than cure. Greatest return on any investment on control is from early action can keeping a population out or at a maintenance level.
Rabbits in 2004 were estimated to have an economic cost of $100m per annum, and that with the successful release of a biological control agent the beef and sheep industries would benefit by about $220m. They cause significant environmental damage and are widely distributed in Australia, with the exception of the tropical north.
- Reduce the carrying capacity of farms by competing with livestock for feed.
- Damage emerging crops.
- Reduce plant biodiversity by eating seedlings and young plants.
- Reduce animal biodiversity by competing with native animals for food and shelter.
- Contribute to soil erosion by removing plant cover.
Feral Pigs are estimated to cost Australian farmers more than $100 million annually. They cause significant environmental damage and are found in all states, but are most numerous in NSW, the NT and QLD.
- Contribute to land degradation and soil erosion
- Contribute to losses in lambs and managed goats
- Damage fences and dams
- Compete with stock for feed
- Damage grain and cane crops
- Are potential hosts of diseases
Foxes are spread over 75% of the landscape are estimated to cost Australian farmers more than $35 million annually. They cause significant environmental damage and their distribution is very similar to feral rabbits. If environmental costs by predation on native animals was included, the cost is significantly higher
- Contribute to lamb losses
- Prey on native animals
- Are potential hosts of diseases
- Are one of Australia's top predators
Wild dogs are estimated to cost Australian farmers more than $65 million annually. They cause significant environmental damage and are widely distributed around Australia. Pure dingoes are mainly found in northern Australia and wild domestic dogs and domestic dogs hybridised with dingoes in southern Australia.
- Contribute to lamb and sheep losses
- Contribute to calf losses
- Contribute to managed goat losses
- Harass livestock
- Are potential hosts of exotics diseases
A comprehensive independent survey of the environmental practices of Australian cattle and sheep farmers in 2010 found 88% of sampled producers actively control pest animals.
The Australian government is funding the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre: Australia’s largest integrated invasive animal research program. The program develops new technologies and integrated strategies to reduce the impact of invasive animals on Australia’s economy, environment, and people. They concentrate on developing smarter tools to prevent and detect new invasions, as well as providing producers with pest management strategies. MLA is a co-funder of the CRC.
Projects that the industry is investing in with the CRC include:
More research projects can be found at 100 Initiatives.