Feral animals

Australia's native plants and animals have adapted to life on an isolated continent over millions of years.

Since European settlement native animals have had to compete with a range of introduced animals for habitat, food and shelter. These pressures have also had a major impact on our country's soil, waterways and marine ecosystems.

Feral animals are non-native (introduced) species that are, or have the potential to become, established in the wild through escape from captivity, deliberate or accidental release and accidental or illegal importation. They are also referred to as pest animals or invasive pest species.

In Australia, pest animals typically have few natural predators or fatal diseases and some have high reproductive rates. As a result, their populations have not naturally diminished. Pest animals can multiply rapidly if conditions are favourable.

Parks Victoria takes action to control feral animals in Victoria’s national parks and reserves to protect natural and cultural values and meet obligations under the National Parks Act 1975 (Vic.), Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic.), Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) and the international Ramsar Wetlands Convention. However, animal control programs are just one way that Parks Victoria takes care of Victoria’s parks. 

 

Foxes and feral cats

Foxes and feral cats prey on a number of small to medium sized mammals, birds and reptiles. As a result, they have led to the decline in numbers or disappearance of a number of native species.

The most effective way of decreasing fox predation is through exclusion fencing and large scale baiting. To be effective, baiting must be ongoing and must consider the effects on native animals.

There is currently no effective technique for controlling feral cats on a broad-scale.

Rabbits

Rabbits compete with native animals for food and habitat, damage vegetation and expose soil to erosion. They ringbark trees and shrubs, and prevent regeneration by eating seeds and seedlings. Their impact often increases during drought and immediately after fire when food is scarce and they eat whatever they can.

The ecological changes caused by large numbers of rabbits may have contributed to the extinction of several small ground-dwelling mammals and to the decline in numbers of many native plants and animals.

Rabbits are most effectively managed by integrated programs involving warren ripping, fumigation and poison baiting.

Exotic grazers

Exotic grazers (e.g. feral goats, feral horses, deer and feral pigs) are not as widespread as foxes, cats and rabbits. Their impacts on the natural environment are caused by grazing, browsing, soil disturbance through feeding habits and trampling with their hard hooves.

Goats, deer and pig numbers are controlled by shooting. At some locations, programs which aim to eradicate local populations are in place.

Feral horses

Horses are not a natural part of the Australian environment. Their hard hooves can cause serious damage to alpine, subalpine, montane and floodplain environments. This includes the destruction of habitat critical to many threatened plant and animal species, damage to waterways, degradation of fragile vegetation, and soil disturbance that results in erosion or compaction.

Parks Victoria works with community and experts to design and deliver programs that can help control feral horse populations. Control methods include passive trapping and rehoming or shooting. In some places, exclusion areas are established to protect small vulnerable habitats and to collect information on what the environment should look like without pressure from feral horses. Parks Victoria is committed to rehome as many feral horses as possible, if they are deemed to be in good condition. Find out more about our rehoming program below, under 'What can I do to help?'.

 

Deer

There are currently four species of deer established in Victoria: Sambar, Red, Fallow and hog. Deer impact on the natural environment and native species by trampling and destroying plants, increasing grazing pressure and ring-barking young trees. Deer also foul waterholes, cause soil erosion and assist the spread of weeds.

The most effective method for controlling deer populations is shooting. Parks Victoria works with professional shooters and accredited volunteers  through the Sporting Shooters Association Australia (SSAA) and the Australian Deer Association (ADA) to control deer in Victoria’s parks and reserves. Exclusion fencing is an effective way to protect specific areas or species from feral animal impacts, but is more used for comparative and research purposes than environmental protection.

What can I do to help?

Volunteer in our parks

ParkConnect is Parks Victoria’s online volunteering portal. There are many activities available for volunteers to help protect, maintain and restore Victoria’s natural environment including habitat restoration, weeding and revegetation work.

Register online today and find an activity to get involved in!

 

Report sightings of feral animals

You can help map feral animal sightings in your local area by reporting them through FeralScan, a national initiative by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

 

Be a good neighbour

Everyone has a role to play in managing feral animals and weeds. All sectors of government, industry and the community can work together to protect Victoria’s natural environment.

Find out more through Agriculture Victoria: Managing invasive plants and animals.

 

Be a responsible pet owner

Simple things like keeping your dog on a leash or desexing your cat and keeping it indoors can have huge benefits for native wildlife and the environment.

Zoos Victoria and RSPCA Victoria’s ‘Safe Cat, Safe Wildlife’ campaign provides cat owners with advice and support. Visit www.safecat.org.au for more information.

Other tips for responsible pet ownership can be found on the Department of the Environment and Energy webpage: Protecting our Wildlife: Responsible pet ownership.

 

Report new sightings of exotic species

If you see any unusual, strange or exotic animal you can report it to the High Risk Invasive Animal project, through Agriculture Victoria.

Find out more through Agriculture Victoria: How to report an exotic pest animal sighting.

 

Rehome a feral horse

If you are genuinely interested in taking on ownership of a feral horse that Parks Victoria have safely removed from the park, you will be asked to complete an Expression of Interest (EOI) application which details a specific set of criteria.

Please be aware that this program is not for everyone, the feral horses removed from the parks are wild animals. You need to demonstrate the skills and capacity to properly care for these animals to be accepted into the program. You will need to be prepared to train and care for the horse/s should you choose to accept ownership of them.

Should you wish to be involved, please email conservationactionplanning@parks.vic.gov.au to request an application package.

 

 

FAQs about the feral horse rehoming program

Why is Parks Victoria seeking community participation in feral horse rehoming?

Feedback received during the extensive consultation on feral horse management approaches across Victoria indicated that people would like to see more feral horses captured and rehomed as one of the preferred methods. 

Parks Victoria is committed to rehome as many feral horses as possible, if they are deemed to be in good condition.  

We recognise people are willing to support conservation programs and may have the skills and capacity to accept suitable feral horses once captured. 

What is required to be a suitable rehoming recipient?

You need to be able to demonstrate that you have adequate skills and facilities to care for horses, and provide this information in your Expression of Interest (EOI) application to be involved in the program. Parks Victoria will review and consider your application, however, if you cannot meet the requirements outlined in the application form you will not be accepted to rehome captured horses. In addition to proving you have adequate skills to care for horses, suitable applicants must meet the following criteria;

  • You or your organisation’s principal officer or Director must be aged 18 years or over
  • You must not have committed any offences under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 
  • You must have access to a suitable property and containment facilities for the number of horses held
  • You must be able to provide a statement from a qualified Vet indicating your property or agistment is suitable for keeping horses in support of your EOI

 

What is the timing for rehoming feral horses? 

Trapping of feral horses that can be made available for rehoming is dependent on several factors including access to trapping areas, and horses actually being trapped in areas where the number and impacts of horses need to be reduced. For example, some areas are only accessible outside of winter when track conditions are suitable for vehicles.

People who are accepted to participate in the rehoming program will be contacted, sometimes at short notice, and advised when trapping is occurring so they can be prepared to accept horses should any be available. 

 

What happens to horses that aren’t suitable for rehoming?

If track conditions are not suitable for use by vehicles, and/or transport distances are estimated to be excessively long and may result in poor welfare outcomes for horses, or horses are found to be in poor health or otherwise unsuitable for rehoming (for example old horses may be difficult to rehome) horses may be put down humanely at the trap yard under strict conditions. Where possible, carcasses of horses will be removed from the trap yard and disposed of appropriately (by burial or transport and disposal offsite).

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