AUSTRALIA’S GRAVEST ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER?
An estimated population of 24-million feral pigs (Sus scrufa) inhabit approximately forty-five percent of Australia. Boars may grow to two-hundred kilograms. Sows, with a gestation period of three-and-a-half months, start breeding between seven and twelve months of age. They produce generally five or six piglets per litter, but up to ten can be born in good conditions. Piglets wean at two to three months of age and the sow can to return to oestrus after parturition in around three months.
FERAL PIGS DO NOT KNOW THAT THEY ARE PROHIBITED ANIMALS
Australian landholders are required by law to keep feral pigs off their lands, conferring an eradication objective. States exclude themselves from this compliance requirement, effectively partitioning the continental landscape into two classes; one which disallows pigs and the other which doesn’t. Given that the bulk of state lands are declared for conservation purposes, distributed over some ten-thousand reserves and adding up to around thirty-percent of the continental landscape, feral pigs are unintentionally supported by the provision of a vast protected area estate. In Queensland’s Wet Tropics, an estimated population of sixty-thousand Feral Pigs utilise World Heritage resources to their population capacity, with obvious detriment to the greater life-interests of Daintree Rainforest. Through their adaptability and versatility they have thrived, to the clear detriment of many native inhabitants, most significantly the endangered Southern Cassowary. Every habitat gain the feral pig population takes, confers proportionate losses to the cassowary population, compounding across all native plant and animal species that are dependent upon the cassowary.
The national response to this environmental disaster declares that is not possible to eradicate feral pigs from Australia with current resources and techniques, and it is unlikely to be possible to do so in the near future, as they are so widely established. As such, the focus of feral pig management must be on abatement of the impacts of established populations.
“Despite their reproductive prowess and impressive adaptability, feral pigs desecrate the sanctity of the natural landscape. Their undeniable population impacts fly directly in the ecological face of cassowaries and a great many other organisms, impacting upon inhabitant human sensitivity with profound negativity.”
Feral pigs’ indisputable appetite for the highly nutritive hearts of juvenile fan palms (Licuala ramsayi), precludes older fan palms, which are height-wise out of reach to pigs, whilst fan palms younger than forty years have apparently not yet developed substance worthy of pig exploitation. If a person were caught killing a fan palm in a World Heritage rainforest today, regardless of any protestations of nutrient entitlement, they could face up to three years in jail. Feral pigs, however, are unaccountable under the law and are systematically harvesting juvenile fan palms for what has clearly become a staple resource. This means that feral pigs are not allowing any successors to ultimately replace adults that were able to grow in a landscape that had no pigs. No fan Palms means no stranglers to attach the upper canopy to the forest floor, through a secondary canopy halfway up. The question is, can the rainforest hold together against the ravages of cyclones, if Fan Palms no longer occupy their sole domain?