Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (2024)

A Queensland wildlife ecologist hopes an ambitious project to collect 10,000 feral pig ears will provide data to help manage the damaging pest.

University of Southern Queensland researcher Benjamin Allen is supporting a bold plan by the Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association (APDHA) to collect the ears.

"Researchers are not in the habit of collecting 10,000, we just never have the resources to do that," Dr Allen said.

"It's always a very expensive cost … to go and get that data.

"If [APDHA] members are out there doing it, then this might be a match made in heaven.

"[Feral pigs] are … one of the handful of Australia's worst pest animals."

Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (1)

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry estimates feral pigs cost farming more than $100 million each year.

APDHA, which represents hunters who use dogs and guns for feral pig control, is asking members to send in a piece of ear any time they kill a feral pig.

National president Ned Makim said it was an unprecedented collection effort that would be invaluable to future research.

"That number [10,000] is significant because we'd like it to be the biggest wildlife study in the world," he said.

"We're trying to capture some of the knowledge that we hold as hunters."

Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (2)

James Trezise, director of the Biodiversity Council, said feral pigs affected almost all forms of Australian wildlife through digging, foraging, trampling, and predation.

"They're in the top three for impacts on our threatened wildlife," he said.

Mr Trezise said a coordinated approach to management was needed as feral animals did not respect state borders.

"Any kind of increased data can be helpful," he said.

"What we need to see with feral pigs is integrated strategic pest management and a lot more investment in their control and eradication."

A losing battle?

For North Queensland sugarcane grower Ross Lyon, feral pigs have always been an issue on his farm in Lannercost, 130km north-west of Townsville.

"We've been here since 1964 … we've been trying everything," he said.

Despite constant hunting and baiting, feral pig numbers were out of control.

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"They're just coming in droves and our average kill for the year is around 450 pigs and we're not even dinting it," he said.

Mr Lyon estimated that every year, pigs are ruining about 500 tonnes of cane, a crop worth $335,000 at current prices.

"It's scandalous, it just makes me sick," he said.

"Last year, they took out about a seven-acre [2.8-hectare] paddock and destroyed it."

Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (3)

Having seen what these animals are capable of, Mr Lyon was not confident the collection program would help him.

"The effort probably of more advantage [would be] to put more research into what pigs want to eat," he said.

"We've tried multitudes of things … but it just never worked."

Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (4)

Barry Kelly has 20 years' experience developing and managing feral pig control programs.

He said despite the efforts of various groups, the problem was worsening.

"It's just getting out of hand, it's getting bigger and bigger," Mr Kelly said.

Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (5)

But he believed the "losing battle" could be turned around with a coordinated approach.

"It [management] needs to be on a national scale," he said.

"There's a lot of good pig projects going on around the country, achieving great results and reducing the numbers, but all the neighbouring areas are not doing anything."

Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (6)

How does it work?

Hunters across Australia have been asked to snip the tips off the ears of the pigs they kill, and to notify the association that they have a sample.

Mr Makim said his group would then send them in a collection bag for the dried ear tip to be posted back.

Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (7)

Once the details of where and when the ear was collected are recorded by the hunters, they will pass the sample on to scientists for any research they desire.

"If they're high-quality samples, then the world's your oyster, you can do all sorts of things," Dr Allen said.

"It [the genetic sample] doesn't have to be big, you don't need something the size of a corn chip, you only need something the size of a lentil.

"If we do have them, then it opens up the door to answering all sorts of questions."

The collection drive will run until the end of the year.

Wanted: 10,000 feral pig ears to help control 'one of Australia's worst pest animals' (8)

Along with samples that will help future science, Mr Makim hoped the project would challenge stereotypes about hunters.

"The further you get into a metropolitan area, the less contact people have with them," he said.

"They will go with a stereotype of a boofhead who's going around in the bush, wreaking havoc.

"We can't help with the way we look, a lot of us look like boofheads, [but] the reality is pig hunters are just normal people.

"We want to underline that pig hunters are already contributing to the economy and to the environment, and perhaps address some of those misconceptions that are out there."

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