Tools, programs and incentives help deal with predators in peri-urban environment

A suite of educational tools, on-ground programs and incentives is helping landowners in one of Queensland’s major peri-urban areas effectively deal with vertebrate pests.

Sunshine Coast Council is the third largest local government area in Queensland for population size at 359,000 and has 30 per cent of its landholdings classified as peri-urban lifestyle blocks.

Wild dogs, foxes, feral cats, rabbits, feral pigs and feral deer are among the pest animals impacting on agriculture, livestock, peri-urban, residential and coastal communities, and posing a substantial threat to the region’s endangered native species of spotted quoll, green sea turtle, Mary River turtle, loggerhead turtle and the mangrove water mouse. 

Sunshine Coast Council Team Leader for Feral Animal Education and Control, Matthew Heness, and his staff provide a free service to help landowners address feral animals on their properties. 

In addition to proactively locating and removing feral animals, council receives almost 500 requests a year to assist the community with feral animal control.

Environment Portfolio Councillor Maria Suarez said feral animals caused serious issues for the environment, community and industry. 

“We speak directly to our community at events and also engage with neighbouring councils to coordinate control activities and training programs,” Cr Suarez said. 

The Sunshine Coast Feral Animal Prevention and Control Program includes community education, assisting community members, surveying feral animal populations, working across land tenures to provide a wholistic response, removing feral animals and partnering with research organisations. 

Council carried out night feral animal surveying using thermal imaging equipment at Kenilworth, Conondale and Cambroom in 2022 to determine the distribution, population, size, habitat use and impacts of feral animals.

Data collected from the survey was used to inform and assess the effectiveness of council’s feral animal control programs and to assist with targeting problem areas.

Ground baiting is completed in the rural areas several times a year and Council works collaboratively on nil-tenure landscape control with neighbouring councils, Noosa, Gympie, Moreton Bay and Somerset.

Matthew Heness said a suite of tools were used to manage wild dogs in peri-urban areas including leg hold traps, cage traps, remote camera monitoring and educational resources.

“Cage traps are our preference for peri-urban built-up areas – if we do trap a non-target species it is easy to release them without any injury,” he said.

“In areas where we can control non-target species, we have the option of using canid pest ejectors (CPEs), ensuring there is a large radius away from other properties and the community.

“They are very effective way of controlling wild dogs and foxes in peri-urban areas as they are so target-species specific. 

“We avoid placing the CPEs on public roads to minimise the interaction with people potentially walking their dogs. We do a large amount of monitoring before we make the decision on CPE placement as we need to be certain they will not be disturbed by domestic animals or people.”

All landowners reporting predation or sightings are taken through a simple questionnaire to determine what sort of control program is to be initiated.

“Usually, our first action is to put a remote monitoring camera to give us an idea of wild dog movement and activity. If we are satisfied there is a good option for control, the land manager signs a consent form to allow trapping on their property,” Mr Heness said.

When it comes to the number of landholders engaged with the wild dog program, 127 used CPEs in 2022, 101 used ground baiting and 328 used traps. 

Council initiated a “trapping bag” for landholders comprising traps, sieves, an instruction video, and information on effective trapping, 

“This gave people who had never trapped before the best opportunity to manage the wild dogs on their own land with Council assistance to potentially set them up for success,” Mr Heness said.

“Some landholders are proactive about wanting to get on top of the problem themselves and the trapping bags have created landholder engagement. It shows we are trying to do everything we can to assist the community rather than doing it for them.

“There are cases where we are dealing with elderly landholders or people who can’t physically do this sort of work so we will do as best we can for them.

“In 2022 we captured about 50 wild dogs compared to 70 in 2021 and 90 in 2020. In terms of feral pests, they present the most danger to livestock and are our highest priority to deal with.

“There has been a reduction in the number of significant losses of livestock. Wild dogs are not something you will ever get on top of but at the same time you can’t let them go because the moment you take your foot off the gas pedal, it will be hard to get back to where we are now.”

Mr Heness said landholders were encouraged to use FeralScan to report wild dog activity as part of Council’s eradication programs.

“Team leaders receive daily reports from FeralScan enabling a quick response and the platform gives us useful statistics on what we are dealing with in each area.

“We can then target areas where we have seen an increase to enable better utilisation of resources.

“We have just finished another round of thermal imagery surveys in hotspots to get an idea on the numbers of feral animals we are dealing with.”

Council spends $1.2 million per financial year on feral animal education, monitoring, prevention and control programs.

“When you look at the devastation and impact feral animals have on agriculture, livestock, peri-urban areas and the community, it is a small price to pay,” Mr Heness said. 

“Recently our biosecurity technical officer managed to get a photo of a spotted quoll on one of our telemetry cameras – the first quoll photographed in over a decade in the region. This reinforces what we do and why we do it.”

Mr Heness said the biosecurity team worked hard to dispel myths and misinformation around feral animal management to change the perception around their role.

“We see our role as more about conservation and protection of the environment where dispatching animals is the ultimate last resort. It’s about focusing on the positives rather than the negatives through simple changes in vocabulary, messaging and the way we present ourselves goes a long way to doing that.”

For more information on management options for peri-urban wild dogs click here.