Goat busters - celebrating 20 years of tackling pests in Victoria's Mallee

Wednesday 29 May, 2024

Sometimes you’ve just got to grab the goat by the horns when dealing with a problem pest.

That’s exactly what Parks Victoria and the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (Victoria) decided to do 20 years ago when they came together to take aim at the herds of feral goats which were impacting the Mallee region in Victoria’s northwest. 

Since its inception in 2003, this ongoing partnership between Parks Victoria and SSAA Victoria has been instrumental in addressing the ecological challenges posed by feral goats, which often wreak havoc on native vegetation and compete with local wildlife for resources.

The Mallee region is part of an enduring Aboriginal landscape which includes places of incredible natural beauty like Wyperfeld National Park, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, and Murray-Sunset National Park.

The Mallee is characterized by its semi-arid landscape and woodlands which grow slowly over time, making them particularly susceptible to the detrimental effects of invasive species like goats, making the need for effective management strategies paramount.

A goat with a tracking collar

Photo: Tracking collars like this one can be useful to find herds of feral goats in the Mallee scrublands.

Feral goats are particularly bad for the Mallee environment. Their cloven hoofs damage the soil, they overgraze mature trees and seedlings, and they outcompete many native mammals for these resources. As a result, canopy and shrub regeneration is almost impossible due to their presence, and this can have a knock-on effect for other species.

For example, overgrazing by feral goats can prevent seedlings of plants like the Slender Cypress-pine from maturing, which birds like the iconic Pink Cockatoo need for vital habitat.

However, thanks to the partnership between SSAA Victoria and Parks Victoria, more than 6500 feral goats have been removed from Murray-Sunset National Park, the largest national park in Victoria, with thousands more across other parts of the Mallee. The long-term commitment by SSAA Victoria volunteers to assist in removing goats from the Mallee parks has been instrumental in the recovery of native flora and fauna in the region.

Volunteer SSAA shooter

Volunteers undertake training and adhere to safety precautions before undertaking feral goat control

SSAA volunteers in the Mallee

Volunteer shooters from the SSAA have been instrumental in reducing numbers of feral goats in the Mallee.

The Mallee partnership with SSAA Victoria has proved so successful that Parks Victoria has also engaged SSAA volunteers to help tackle other pest and problem animals across the state, like foxes in Greater Bendigo National Park or deer in Melbourne’s southeastern parks like Devilbend Natural Features Reserve and Cardinia Creek Parklands.

Parks Victoria’s Total Grazing Management Coordinator Brendan Rodgers said the dedication of SSAA Victoria volunteers was vital when it came to caring for the Mallee’s natural beauty.

“Our enduring and constructive relationship with SSAA Victoria is a testament to the professionalism exhibited by both teams,” Brendan said.

“From training and safety to ethics and work standards, we have cultivated trust and camaraderie with each other over the years.

“The Nhill SSAA Victoria group in particular has been in partnership with Parks Victoria for over two decades. During this period, the group has received a Kookaburra Award from the Premier of Victoria for the outstanding contributions of volunteers in Victorian parks and reserves.”

This unwavering dedication to goat control has been instrumental in the restoration of the degraded semi-arid woodland and floodplain vegetation communities of the Mallee.”

SSAA Victoria Training and Programs Manager Daryl Snowdon said the partnership provided positive outcomes for hunters and the environment.

“These partnerships allow recreational hunters to put their skills to use in a very targeted way for the benefit of the environment and the community,” Daryl said.

“SSAA Victoria values the opportunities that working with Parks Victoria bring in breaking down barriers and in showing the wider community a different side of hunting and hunters than they might otherwise see.”

Volunteer shooter from the SSAA

Photo: Volunteers from the SSAA have been helping reduce goats in the Mallee region for nearly 20 years, restoring the region's biodiversity in the process.

Through targeted culling programs and strategic management practices, the partnership has helped restore the region's delicate ecosystem, allowing native flora and fauna to thrive once more.

“It is important to recognise the wider ecosystem when planning how to best monitor the land. As we continue to care for the Mallee, we can support the natural ecological processes with successful, targeted intervention,” Brendan said.

“Here's to two decades of a fruitful partnership, shared successes, and the continued dedication to conservation.”


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