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.
A variety of tools are used to maximise the effectiveness of Victoria’s animal control programs. Many considerations are given (e.g. humaneness, cost, efficiency) to determine which tools, or control methods, are used for particular animals in particular places. Examples of control methods include:
- Baiting foxes
- Trapping cats
- Baiting and trapping for feral pigs
- Exclusion fencing to keep deer away from endangered plants
- Shooting (aerial and ground) for deer and feral pigs
All feral animal management operations are thoroughly planned and implemented under strict protocols and oversight, ensuring that operations are safe, effective, humane and meet obligations of all relevant legislation, Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures.
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.
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.
Visit the Feral horses webpage for more information on Parks Victoria's management of feral horses.
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.
Predation by feral cats is one of the most significant threats to the survival of Victoria’s at-risk native wildlife. They prey on a broad range of invertebrates, amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles. Feral cats are also known to impact wildlife and agricultural livestock through the transmission of parasites such as toxoplasma and sarcocystis. Feral cats (Felis catus) are found across all of mainland Australia in a variety of habitat types including forests, woodlands, grasslands and deserts. In 2018, feral cats were declared established pests on specified public land in Victoria under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994. Parks Victoria must take all reasonable steps to control the spread of, and as far as possible, eradicate feral cats.
Parks Victoria manages feral cats through exclusion fencing, poison baiting, trapping and shooting. Baiting is considered to be the most effective form of cat control over broad-scale areas. Cage traps are commonly used to trap feral cats, while rubber-padded leg hold traps can be used in very limited circumstances with ministerial approval.
Cat owners are also encouraged to contain and sterilise their domestic cats to reduce unnecessary impact on wildlife and prevent them from contributing to the feral cat population.
The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) has played a major role in the decline of ground-nesting birds and small to medium sized mammals in Victoria. Foxes are opportunistic predators and scavengers that impact native wildlife, spread weeds and cause production loss in livestock systems. In Victoria, foxes are declared as established pests, requiring all land managers to take all reasonable steps to control the spread of, and as far as possible, eradicate foxes.
Parks Victoria delivers fox control programs at priority parks using techniques including large-scale poison baiting, exclusion fencing, rubber-padded leghold traps, shooting and den fumigation. To be most effective, a variety of control tools must be used on an ongoing basis with consideration of the effects on native species and domestic dogs which may also consume baits.
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.
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.
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.
Find out more information at the Rehoming a feral horse webpage.