Australian National University, Canberra. Completed.
Summary | Aims | Research Methods | Aboriginal
input | Progress |
Feral pig damage along drainage lines in
Photo: Anthea Dee
Feral pigs ( Sus scrofa ) are widespread throughout most
of Australia, including the Top End of the Northern Territory where
they are found in a variety of habitats. Their behavior is
perceived to threaten natural ecosystems most notably by their
diggings, which cause disturbance to soil and natural vegetation.
They prefer thick cover and need almost constant access to water
especially in high temperatures. This excludes them from the arid
centre of Australia and usually limits them to coastal areas or
edges of rivers and swamps.
Pigs are true omnivores. Their diet is varied but relies heavily
on plant material including grasses, leaves, fruits, nuts and
berries. They also prey on a range of insects, frogs, reptiles and
small mammals. Feral pigs are a threat to the environment through
their feeding, by their destruction of habitat and competition for
food, water and shelter. Their digging causes erosion, damages the
roots of native plants and disturbs soil, which can assist in the
introduction and spread of weeds.
Feral pigs shot by two members of the Wanga
Djakamirr rangers near Gatji outstation
Photo: Anthea Dee
Broadly, this project aims to take a holistic approach to the
development of a feral pig management plan for the Arafura Swamp,
in north central Arnhem Land, by integrating scientific research
with contemporary Aboriginal knowledge and aspirations. As well as
engaging the major conservation issue of management of feral
animals on Aboriginal lands, the project considers the disparate
values of feral pigs to various stakeholders.
Complete eradication of feral pigs is recognised as a virtually
impossible and uneconomical task. Controlling pig numbers is more
practical although this can still be very expensive and in many
cases is largely ineffective. More effective and efficient control
might be achieved if adequate information was available on feral
pigs' seasonal use of different vegetation communities and food
Hence, spatial and temporal patterns of habitat use by feral
pigs are considered in this region. Quantitative signs of pig
damage as well as simple presence/absence data have been collected
from a series of sites located in different vegetation types along
the western side of the Arafura swamp. A range of basic ecological
data has also been collected to try to determine whether specific
factors influence where pigs go to at different times of year.
Resulting data will be applied to the development of a predictive
model of seasonal feral pig habitat use and will be used to devise
more efficient control methods.
Anthea and Norman marking a survey site at
In addition, the project aims to develop an understanding of how
local Aboriginal people feel about feral pigs and their affect on
bush foods and on country in general. This ethnographic perspective
is essential to understand when developing management plans on
Aboriginal land. Feral animals and weeds are relatively new to this
part of the top end, an area with a history of uninterrupted
traditional Aboriginal land management. Many of the problems
associated with these new weeds and animals are unfamiliar to
Aboriginal people and it has become important that land management
now be looked at and executed using both indigenous and western
scientific knowledge. Aboriginal people can contribute much to the
battle against invaders through their acute familiarity and
understanding of the natural landscape in which they live. They are
the best source of knowledge about changes in the landscape on both
a broad and micro level.
The local Yolngu people have had a great deal of involvement in
the project at various levels from site location suggestions and
identification of animal signs to long discussions about damage
caused by feral pigs and concerns for the health of people and
country. Their participation in surveys has allowed a two-way
transfer of knowledge and skills between researcher and Aboriginal
collaborators which is an invaluable process.
Work over 2000-1 focused on completion of field surveys (July
and September 2000) and then data analysis and writing. Data
analysis to date has involved seasonal based general linear
regression analyses and general linear mixed modeling with the aim
of determining which ecological variables measured are best at
explaining feral pig presence.
The Wanga Djakamirr ranger unit along with the Caring for
Country Unit (NLC) has greatly assisted with the field program and
has provided access to essential facilities in the field. Many of
our research activities have been coordinated throughout the year
to facilitate knowledge exchange and learning.