And this little piggy went extinct

24 11 2021

Back in June of this year I wrote (whinged) about the disappointment of writing a lot of ecological models that were rarely used to assist real-world wildlife management. However, I did hint that another model I wrote had assistance one government agency with pig management on Kangaroo Island.

Well, now that report has been published online and I’m permitted to talk about it. I’m also very happy to report that, in the words of the Government of South Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA),

Modelling by the Flinders University Global Ecology Laboratory shows the likelihood and feasibility of feral pig eradication under different funding and eradication scenarios. With enough funding, feral pigs could be eradicated from Kangaroo Island in 2 years.

This basically means that because of the model, PIRSA was successful in obtaining enough funding to pretty much ensure that the eradication of feral pigs from Kangaroo Island will be feasible!

Why is this important to get rid of feral pigs? They are a major pest on the Island, causing severe economic and environmental impacts both to farms and native ecosystems. On the agricultural side of things, they prey on newborn lambs, eat crops, and compete with livestock for pasture. Feral pigs damage natural habitats by up-rooting vegetation and fouling waterholes. They can also spread weeds and damage infrastructure, as well as act as hosts of parasites and diseases (e.g., leptospirosis, tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease) that pose serious threats to industry, wildlife, and even humans.

I have to admit that the model is fairly simple — it’s not age-structured, and assumes several unknown parameters. However, it appear realistic based on what’s been happening on the ground on Kangaroo Island over the last few years. More importantly, the cost estimates associated with different combinations of summer and winter aerial culling, baiting, and on-ground shooting are what the agency used to justify their funding requests.

Without the dosh, it was pretty much assured that the little piggies would not only persist on the Island, they would also expand and end up doing a lot of ecological damage.

But we’re not done yet. In fact, we’re developing an age-structured model (led by Honours student Pete Hamnett) with a lot more nuanced functionality that will hopefully assist the agency to eradicate feral pigs once and for all from the island in a few years. We also think that the model will be easily transferable to other areas with a little modest tweaking to local conditions.

CJA Bradshaw


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2 responses

25 11 2021
Myall Tarran

Excited to see Pete’s age-structured model!

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24 11 2021
Bradley Page

Thanks very much Corey and Pete. As you know, in government, its rare that we have all of the desirable information before we need to make decisions. This was particularly the case for the KI Feral Pig Eradication program, which had a brief opportunity, on the back of the devastating 2019/20 bushfires, to implement an eradication program across about 180,000 hectares. Your hastily-prepared models, which I recall were developed over a few late nights and a weekend, helped us refine the planning of this program, including the need for significant additional funding. KI farmers, biodiversity managers and tourism operators and I are grateful for your support.

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