Aerial cull in south-west NSW takes out thousands of feral pigs

Out in south-western NSW feral pigs are as thick as thieves – up to 170 per square kilometre in some parts – but their thievery is coming to an end with a major aerial cull through Local Land Services (LLS) and also by farmers banding together to sort them out.

The feral pigs are so scrawny from the drought no one would even consider them for eating, but even lean, the damage they do is considerable, nesting in crops, eating ripened seeds, ruining fences and digging up large areas.

The LLS in combination with National Parks and Wildlife Service and other groups has just taken out 4750 feral pigs in an aerial shoot across 750,000 hectares in the Riverina, Murray and Western LLS regions.

A herd of pigs targetted in the aerial shoot.

A herd of pigs targetted in the aerial shoot.

Biosecurity and Emergency Services manager Michael Leane said it was an opportune time to carry out the targeted program.

“There’s not many silver linings to drought conditions but it’s an ideal window to achieve significant knockdowns when it comes to pest control,” Mr Leane said.

“The pigs are really poor at the moment and we’ve noticed a huge drop in condition since last year, so this was a good chance to carry out this shoot and it was pleasing to see the results that we did.” 

“Programs like this rely on other strategic methods including ground trapping and baiting to ensure optimal results are achieved.”

Landholders near Hillston have been battling feral pigs for many years. Mountain Creek farmer Dave Storrier said his neighbours and he banded together to hire a helicopter and shooter for an aerial cull and they shot 300 pigs in a couple of hours.

Dave Storrier, Mountain Creek, was surprised how many pigs there were after neighbours banded together to do an aerial cull. Photo by Rachael Webb.

Dave Storrier, Mountain Creek, was surprised how many pigs there were after neighbours banded together to do an aerial cull. Photo by Rachael Webb.

“I was surprised how many pigs there were on my place, I had no idea there were so many,” Mr Storrier said.

“The pigs are very smart, they move from one side of the property to the other, and once you think you’ve got their routine worked out they change it. You never know when or where they are going to strike.”

Despite the cull pigs were still coming in, eating cotton seed at the side of the shed at night.

Mr Storrier worked out that the cost of the aerial cull easily paid off by reducing damage to crops. The pigs wander in and out of the nearby Lachlan Ranges. He said the situation was a lot better now after the cull.

Nearby Dave Fensom, Karalee, closer in to Hillston, had pigs for the first time, the drought forcing them closer into town.

“We had a herd of about 20 running around. We had two strips to go in our crop and there about seven or eight pigs sitting in there, so the boys got stuck into them.”

Local Land Services says its cull took out 70 per cent of the feral pig population in the western Riverina – but farmers may dispute this figure, as it would appear to only touch the surface, based on farmers’ reports.

The LLS though says it backs up the aerial cull with other control measures such as ground baiting and trapping in conjunction with landholders and community groups.

Night-spotting feral pigs with infrared camera.

Night-spotting feral pigs with infrared camera.

The LLS said the areas for the shoot were identified from aerial surveillance that has been collected annually for the past three years as part of the Western Riverina Pig Project.

“This data pinpointed the highest priority areas where densities were found to be as high as 170 pigs per square kilometre.”

Through the program, which covered an area of 750,000 hectares across the Riverina, Murray and Western Local Land Services regions, a total of 5,644 pests were eradicated including pigs, deer, feral cats and foxes. A total of 4,750 pigs were culled, it said.

This program was coordinated by Local Land Services and involved the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, local community groups and landholders. 

The program utilised funding from the 2018 Pest and Weed Drought Funding Program.

Feral pigs are listed as a Key Threatening Process due to predation, habitat, degradation, competition and disease transmission, the DPI says.