Invasive animal research

Management of peri-urban wild dogs and deer

Research officers: Matt Gentle, James Speed, Tony Pople, Matt Amos, Michael Brennan and Lana Harriott

Small landholdings, varied land use, high human density and media exposure create distinct difficulties for peri-urban pest managers. Peri-urban local governments have identified the need for tools and strategies for control of wild dogs and deer. Broad-scale baiting for wild dogs in peri-urban areas is rarely an option and public sentiment and reaction to the traditional toxin (1080) can stifle usage. This problem may be somewhat alleviated with recent availability of a relatively humane toxin PAPP with an antidote, but field assessments are required. New tools such as canid ejectors will need similar assessment. Recent Invasive Animal CRC work has also shown that there are self-sustaining peri-urban populations of wild dogs. This suggests management at ‘point-of-impact’ (e.g. using ejectors/traps) may be more effective than pursuing broad-scale population suppression, but this requires assessment.

In contrast, for deer, a more fragmented distribution suggests management of source populations may be more fruitful. Control tools include various traps, baiting devices and shooting but efficacy is not well known and some methods are untenable in built-up areas. Monitoring methods are well developed overseas, but need broader application and refinement in Australia to guide and assess management action.

Particularly for deer but increasingly for wild dogs, public opposition to culling programs has thwarted control effort so community engagement is needed to determine and guide appropriate management strategies. Workshops will be conducted to gauge community attitudes to wild dogs and deer issues, and develop community-led plans for pest management. Assessment of the implementation of the plans will be completed to determine the success of the community-led approach. This would mesh with more traditional assessments of control strategies that focus on the monitoring of impacts (e.g. incident records) and activity (e.g. sightings, activity) as metrics of success.

Cluster fencing monitoring and evaluation

Research officers: Malcolm Kennedy, Tony Pople and Peter Elsworth

In 2013 South-West Natural Resource Management contracted graziers to erect several exclusion fences around ‘clusters’ of properties to facilitate the removal of wild dogs and control of kangaroos and other pests inside the fenced area by denying immigration. With public funding support, the construction of additional exclusion/cluster fences in Queensland has exceeded all expectations. To evaluate the impacts and longer-term benefits of cluster fences on livestock production, land condition, regional economies and biodiversity, a project was developed to monitor wildlife and vegetation trends within cluster fences. Initially intended as a 5-year study, dry seasonal conditions, ongoing Commonwealth and State investment and funding from the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS), this project will be extended further to capture the expected longer-term impacts.

This project monitors the abundance of kangaroos, wild dogs and other wildlife and pasture biomass and condition before and after the erection of cluster fences to quantitatively evaluate the cluster fence strategy. Our monitoring contrasts pest abundance and pasture condition on individual properties within the cluster with that of properties immediately outside the cluster fence. Ultimately, the success of cluster fencing will be determined by the extent to which livestock production improves (in addition to other indirect economic and social benefits) relative to livestock production in comparable areas outside the cluster, less the cost of establishing and maintaining the cluster fence and reduced pest populations. To that end and with support from CISS, this project will (1) add to the work at two intensive sites by undertaking comprehensive economic and productivity assessments of cluster fencing,(2) use regional modelling and remote-sensing to more broadly evaluate the effects of cluster fences and (3) determines the initial and likely future impact of fencing on some key environmental indicators.

Feral pig baits – registration, refinements and alternatives

Research officers: Matthew Gentle and Peter Elsworth

This project provides support to progressing and assessing alternatives to, the registration of two feral pig 1080 baiting practices - application of meat baits in the absence of pre-feeding or bait-stations, and the use of baits prepared from fruit materials - that have a long history of use in Queensland to protect agriculture and the environment. Neither of these methods are included on the commercial 1080 concentrate labels, effectively precluding their use post supply of the remaining stock of Queensland 1080 concentrate. Efficacy and non-target species impact data from previous research has been submitted to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) as part of a minor use permit applications for limited use on fruit (Wet tropics, NE Queensland) and - pending at March 2020- meat baits (rangeland areas), including preparation technique for meat baits (rolled vs injected baits). However, follow up with the APVMA will be required to progress approval of permits, which is likely to include additional supporting information including on use, efficacy and viability of alternative baiting techniques. This will require continuing resources and research to support.

The recent registration (early 2020) of Hoggone® meSN® (microencapsulated sodium nitrite) provides a potential alternative to conventional (ground) 1080 baiting techniques. The toxin sodium nitrite is viewed as a more humane alternative to 1080, and the availability of a shelf-stable, commercially-available bait has logistical benefits over perishable 1080 products that dominate current use. Unlike 1080, sodium nitrite is a Schedule S6 poison, so neighbour notification and special permits to purchase or store are not required. Despite registration permitting use Australia-wide, Hoggone® meSN® has not been tested in wet tropics production environments where fruit baiting is common. The usage guidelines require extended pre-feeding, and the use of specific physical exclusion device/s to limit access to non-target species. There are specific challenges in wet tropics environs for baiting pigs including the poor acceptability of novel bait types to feral pigs (including cereal grain and legume bait types), and non-target species issues that have plagued the use of commercial 1080 baits (i.e. Pigout®). We will collaborate with end-users in local government and industry to determine the effectiveness and safety of Hoggone® meSN®, and alternative safety mechanisms for fruit baiting where suitable (e.g. excluder devices including Bait box and HOGMAT) to bait pigs in the wet tropics.

Feral cat ecology and management

Research officers: Matthew Gentle and James Speed

Feral cat populations are notoriously difficult to control. Feral cat field baiting trials assessing the efficacy and non-target impacts of 1080 baits, including the Eradicat® sausage bait, have been completed throughout Queensland as part of the Feral Pest Initiative (QFPI) project (completed 6/2020). These data are broadly supportive of their use, but currently Eradicat® baits are only approved for use in Queensland at Taunton National Park (Scientific) under APVMA minor use permit. Biosecurity South Australia are collating information to assist registration of Eradicat® for use across eastern Australia. This proposed IP&A project seeks to collate, analyse and report data from the QFPI project to help support the registration of Eradicat® across Australia, providing another tool for the control of feral cats in Queensland. Additionally, the foundational research on feral cats (e.g. cat movements, habitat use) and baiting use (e.g. bait degradation, uptake by non-target species) completed as part of the QFPI project will be further analysed via desktop assessments to formulate appropriate management strategies for use. This project aims to collate and analyse the information required for registration of Eradicat® across Queensland and provide guidelines for the safe and effective use by practitioners.

Improved rabbit management in horticultural regions of south-east Queensland and in northern Queensland

Research officer: Peter Elsworth

During 2013 – 2017, a number of field trials were completed under two research projects to undertake foundational research on rabbits in little-studied environments. One project was a joint collaboration between DAF and the University of Queensland and explored many aspects of rabbit impacts (costs, density: damage relationships, and benefits of control) on horticultural production. The second project investigated the ecology and behaviour of rabbits at the edge of their historical range, in northern Queensland.

Both of these projects provided excellent data on behaviour, ecology and impacts. However, considerable detailed desktop analysis of this information is required to support the development of improved management guidelines. This project will analyse, interpret and publish outcomes to provide well-considered management options for the horticulture industry across Queensland, and grazing and dairy production in north Queensland.

Ecology and management of feral chital deer in north Queensland

Research officers: Tony Pople, Matt Amos and Michael Brennan

There are two components seeking to improve the management of wild deer in Queensland.

  1. Determine the ecology, impacts and capacity for the increase and spread of feral chital deer (Axis axis) in north Queensland to develop long-term management strategies. Limiting factors are likely to be a combination of wild dog predation and food supply, particularly the availability of water and high-quality food during the dry season. Basic ecological data (diet, reproduction, population dynamics, movements) have been collected. Future work assesses habitat use, regional distribution, disease risk, fawn survival and causes of mortality.
  2. Develop two cost-effective tools for controlling feral deer in Australia: aerial shooting and ground shooting. The tools will be tested on three deer species in four states: fallow deer on agricultural properties in New South Wales and in native habitats in Tasmania, feral chital deer on pastoral properties in the Charters Towers area of Queensland, and feral sambar deer in the montane forests of Victoria. The effectiveness of the tools will be evaluated on cost, reduction in deer abundance and humaneness.

Towards an optimised multi-platform surveillance network for Asian Black Spined Toads

Research officers: Malcolm Kennedy and Peter Elsworth

As the most common stowaway species arriving in Australia in cargo and baggage, the Asian black-spined toad (ABST, Duttaphyrnus melanostictus) is a species of significant biosecurity concern (Massam et al 2010, Tingley et al 2018). ABST has established populations in a number locations outside its native range in Asia, where causes significant economic and environmental impacts (e.g. Kolby et al 2014). Much of northern and eastern Australia is suitable for the establishment of ABST, including areas outside of the predicted range of cane toads (Tingley et al 2018).

To better manage the risk of an ABST population establishing in Queensland there is a need for a targeted, robust surveillance network with a high level of confidence of incursion detection. A suite of tools including those for passive detection (e.g. FrogID app, Atlas of Living Australia), those developed for cane toad control and monitoring (audio lure traps) and new tools in development (audio detection and environmental DNA (eDNA)) could be applied in a surveillance network. Under the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) CSIRO is working to describe and model an ABST surveillance network based on both passive and active surveillance. In this project we plan to complement this work by testing, optimising and determining the effectiveness of some of these tools, starting with the optimisation of cane toad audio lure traps (e.g. lure call provenance, frequency, pulse rate and volume) for ABST surveillance and investigating the use of eDNA and other novel surveillance techniques.

Improving detection and response to red-eared slider turtles

Research officers: Malcolm Kennedy, James Speed and Peter Elsworth

Red-eared slider turtles (REST) are the most commonly-traded reptile in the world and have significant environmental impacts where they establish outside of their native range (Garcia-Diaz et al 2015, 2017). In Australia, REST have been assessed as having an ‘Extreme’ risk of establishment (Massam et al 2010). Established populations in South East Queensland, originating from the illegal pet trade, were the focus of significant control works from 2005 (O’Keeffe 2009). Individuals have recently been detected within the area of previously established populations and control efforts have been undertaken from September 2018. This work is challenging due to the cryptic and evasive nature of REST.

This project aims to increase effectiveness of REST management and improve confidence of detection and eradication of REST. It will do this through improving understanding of REST behaviour, ecology and management approaches in the established population via analysis of operational data (detection locations and camera trap images), genetic analysis and ecological experimentation. The project will also work with two existing Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) studies to expand and improve the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) detection for REST and to determine the probability of detection and eradication success.

Wild dog predation on cattle and wild herbivores in the Queensland dry tropics

Research officers: Malcolm Kennedy and James Speed

Wild dogs (free-living domestic dogs, dingoes and their hybrids: Canis familiaris) can have significant impacts on livestock enterprises. The effects of wild dogs on sheep and goats are unequivocal, with several studies identifying that dingoes and small stock are incompatible (e.g. Thomson 1984, Fleming et al 2014). The impacts of dingoes on cattle production enterprises can be significant with impacts of up to 30% calf loss (Allen 2005). In this context some producers actively control wild dogs. Conversely, there is evidence that impacts of dingoes on cattle can be modest (Allen 2014, Campbell et al 2019) and at dingoes may advantage cattle producers through suppression of native and introduced herbivores, under some conditions (Allen 2014, Prowse et al 2015).

This project seeks to better understand the movement, predation and feeding behaviour of dingoes on cattle enterprises in Northern Queensland. This will inform our understanding of the impact of dingoes on cattle and wild herbivores. This work will entail satellite telemetry of wild dogs, including a pilot trial of video-collars with accelerometers to determine if this tool can improve our knowledge of wild dog predation. Using satellite telemetry will allow us to also determine the effectiveness of biannual baiting on wild dog numbers. Biosecurity Queensland is currently undertaking research on chital deer on Spyglass station which this project will leverage.