'Biggest wildlife study in Australia' gains traction among pig hunters

The North Queensland Register

Updated March 6 2024 - 9:56am, first published 7:00am

Steph Allen

By Steph Allen

Inverell pig hunter Ned Makim says hunters have an untapped wealth of knowledge that could help researchers in the management of the feral pig problem. Picture: Ned Makim

Inverell pig hunter Ned Makim says hunters have an untapped wealth of knowledge that could help researchers in the management of the feral pig problem. Picture: Ned Makim

 

FOR pig hunters across the country, the environmental, economic and social implications of the wild pests are common knowledge.

Wild pigs are notorious for damaging pastures, land and crops from sowing to harvest, degrading waterholes and wetlands, preying on native species, and spreading disease, parasites and invasive plants.

In 2021, the Queensland government estimated that the state had up to 2.3m feral pigs, and stated that they were "among Queensland's most widespread and damaging pest animals".

Now a new initiative is helping to not only tackle the growing pig problem, but also bring a scientific look into the way the pigs live, breed, and populate.

National president of the Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association Ned Makim was behind the 10,000 Ears Project which launched on March 1.

"The APDHA (constituted in Queensland 20 years ago) exists to represent what we call legal, ethical hunters and one of the tasks that we have is within a changing world and a more urbanised Australia, to explain the relevance of pig hunting," he said.

The APDHA is celebrating 20 years in 2024. Picture: APDHA

The APDHA is celebrating 20 years in 2024. Picture: APDHA

"This year, leading up to APDHA's 20th anniversary, we thought 'we're on every committee, every pest management group, we liaise with government and with cops about illegal hunting'.

"I spoke at the Feral Pig Conference in Cairns last year on the position of hunters as citizen scientists. I said 'it's a great resource that no-one's using. There is more to us than killing a lot of pigs...we can gather data, you can pick our brains...collectively we have hundreds and hundreds of years of pig behaviour and biology sitting in hunters' minds'."

Spurred on by a positive reception from the academic community, Mr Makim began the Great Australian Pig Hunt on January 1, encouraging hunters to log their monthly kills to infer a national figure.

"On two months, the inference is that recreational hunters have killed 1.74m pigs throughout Australia...the average rate was 19.8 (pigs per hunter) in January, and 19.56 in February," he said.

The statistics were coming in thick and fast, and buoyed by the strong participation rate, Mr Makim quickly saw room for more growth within the academic world for further studies.

"We spoke to Associate Professor Ben Allen at the University of Southern Queensland. He's a wildlife researcher...he said 'can you get 1000 ear tips?' I said 'I can get 10,000'...and he said 'if you can do that, it could be the biggest wildlife study in Australia'," Mr Makim said.

Up to 30 hunters are currently taking part in the 10,000 Ears Project across the country. Picture: APDHA

Up to 30 hunters are currently taking part in the 10,000 Ears Project across the country. Picture: APDHA

Thus, the 10,000 Ear Project began, kicking off with significant uptake by the pig hunting community.

"They cut off the tip of the ear...put it in a brown paper bag to dry out. Once they're dry, they're no longer a bio-security issue in terms of transport or being hazardous," Mr Makim said.

The hunters must snip off a tip of the ear, place it in a brown paper bag, and write on the bag the date the pig was killed, its sex, whether it was breeding age, and the nearest town.

There are up to 30 hunters collecting ear samples from each pig they catch.

The samples are delivered to a central location for longer-term storage, awaiting a partnership between APDHA and an organisation with "the requisite expertise or finance, or both, to have the samples analysed".

A report collated by Mr Makim stated that the participation rate of 56 hunters consistently collecting 18 pig ear samples a month for 10 months could achieve 10,000 samples.

DNA can reveal information on breeding and breeding habits, disease susceptibility and history, and movement paths through breeding history. Picture: APDHA

DNA can reveal information on breeding and breeding habits, disease susceptibility and history, and movement paths through breeding history. 

The DNA samples could provide a "bank of information which can be accessed for research", assist in obtaining grants to "administer the program longer term and facilitate a major analytical exercise" to potentially rank as one of country's largest pest animal studies, elevate pig hunters from "incidental suppliers of data to active field staff of a major research project", and establish the APDHA as a "genuine research driver in the feral pig space".

Through communications with Mr Allen, Mr Makim discovered that the ear tips can reveal information about pig breeding, why one boar becomes dominant, information for the potential of a disease outbreak, as well as the "biggest and best thing" - the revelation of the shape of a breeding cohort of pigs.

"Pigs don't just live in a spot and graduate out in a circle...they follow land forms....they follow gullies, ridges and water courses. The best control methods would be following the area where all those pigs are related," he said.

"It would be significant if you have African swine fever...which could pop up in a place like Charters Towers, for example. The initial instinct for controllers...is to throw a circle around Charters Towers...to manage and contain the disease. But that has never worked when dealing with a wild population.

"They won't adhere to circular movement, they'll go where the breeding pattern goes...if they're all related in some way in varying degrees, they'll go further along the Burdekin. Then that's the shape the control method should take.

There has been a massive increase in feral pig numbers this year due to the wet weather. Picture: APDHA

There has been a massive increase in feral pig numbers this year due to the wet weather. Picture: APDHA

"That's one of the things that could pop up (from this study). It could make things more effective. Pigs tend to live up in the hills and come down to feed...hunters know what, but if we can show that through DNA, it will codify the knowledge already held by pig hunters and provide information...for disease outbreak."

Hunters from across the country have come on board to help with the project, ranging from Weipa to the Gulf and up into the Northern Territory.

After widespread heavy rainfall across the state this year, Mr Makim said he had seen a "massive increase" in pig numbers.

"As there is every time there's a season like this," he said.

"They can breed three times a year. My experience in temperate Australia is that the main breeding times are...when sows coming into season in the first week of May. You can see it...or notice that the really big boars that you never see...they appear in the middle of the day.

Researchers have requested that hunters snip off a 20c piece-sized tip of the pig's ear as part of the project. Picture: APDHA

Researchers have requested that hunters snip off a 20c piece-sized tip of the pig's ear as part of the project. Picture: APDHA

"The second season is the first week of September...and in a really good season, the first of January. A sow may have 10 babies and rear eight, and half of those are going to be sows. In a good season, the governing factor is weight not age, so if they're 30kg, they'll come into season quickly...in as little as three months...and she'll breed again...plus her first lot of females are all having babies...that causes an exponential rise because they breed like rabbits.

"It's an absolute time bomb. Yay for hunters, because they're putting the pressure on them but you're never going to get rid of pigs in Australia."

Mr Makim said there are currently studies that are looking at breeding out mosquitoes by engineering their DNA to only produce males.

"If you want to do the same with pigs, it would take 200 years to breed only male pigs in Australia. But in 200 years, nature has a way of finding a way," he said.

"We have to find things that will work now. At risk is the export meat industry, food production, and the immediate threats to that."

 

NSW Police does not support a ban on pig-dogging, despite reports


Sporting Shooter Magazine

February 24, 2024

https://sportingshooter.com.au/news/nsw-police-does-not-support-a-ban-on-pig-dogging-despite-reports/

 

Royce Wilson

by 

New South Wales hunters can breathe a sigh of relief — NSW Police are not calling for a ban on pig hunting with dogs, contrary to reports that they were seeking one.

A document tabled in NSW Parliament during Estimates earlier this week by an Animal Justice Party MP, in which two NSW Police Service members called for pig-dogging to be outlawed, caused alarm among hunters.

However, fears that the NSW Police Service is seeking the ban have proven to be misplaced after the force appeared to distance itself from the letter, which was written in 2022 by two members of a rural crime unit. 

The service went as far as posting a statement on the the Rural Crime Prevention Team Facebook page saying, “It has been reported that the New South Wales Police Force are calling for the banning of using dogs to hunt pigs in New South Wales. This is not the view of the NSWPF or the Rural Crime Prevention Team.”

Pro-hunting Barwon MP Roy Butler says he has asked NSW Police about the issue and been reassured the document was the perspective of individual officers and did not represent the views of the NSW Police Service.

“The NSW police have no intention or plan to stop hunting with dogs,” he said. “It’s not even within their jurisdiction.

“This was never the police’s position and it would be irresponsible to present it as police position. 

“This should never have been tabled or presented as police position because it’s clearly not.”

Mr Butler said many of his constituents were keen pig-doggers so he felt it imperative to get to the bottom of the matter.

He said while NSW Police did not wish to ban pig hunting, they believe there should be an industry code of practice for pig-dogging, and this had his support too.

“Most people who go pig-dogging already do it the right way,” he said.

“We don’t want people doing the wrong thing hunting or with guns — it gives us all a bad name.

“When we’re trying to present ourselves as law-abiding people it only takes one person acting up for the media to have something to run with.”

Australian Pig Doggers and Hunting Association (APDHA) president Ned Makim said they were very supportive of the there being regulations involved with pig-dogging, ideally as an extension of the current NSW R-licence system for hunting, with the aim of ensuring only people doing the right thing were involved in the activity. 

“We are very happy with the concept of regulation,” he said. “All that we ask is that we’re involved in the framing of that regulation.

“In the same way that fishing is licensed, pig-dogging would be licensed. It’s the easiest way to delineate between legal and illegal hunting.  

“We see it as an extension of the R-licence system in NSW. You have to be member of a recognised hunting organisation, and it would be extended to pig hunting on private land, not just public.” 

Mr Makim said animal welfare was a top priority for pig-doggers, who formed close bonds with their animals and took their wellbeing very seriously, as well as having great respect for their quarry.

“The bond you can get with your dogs is incredible and the joy they get out of [pig hunting] is amazing,” he said.

“I’ve been hunting with dogs since I was 15 and of all the people I know, no-one cares more about their dogs or the dog’s welfare than pig hunters.

“It might seem counter-intuitive but they [hunters] also have tremendous respect for the pigs – they don’t hate them, they see them as something to be hunted. 

“A quick, humane death [for a hunted pig] is as much a welfare issue for the pig as it is for the dog.”

 

Rural police call for use of dogs to hunt pigs be outlawed in NSW

ABC Central West, NSW
February 23 2024 - 9:31am (
Updated 

 

By Hugh Hogan

A large wild boar standing on some grass.

A NSW police unit says it is time to ban hunting dogs such as those used to cull feral pigs.(Supplied: Nic Perkins/Invasive Animals CRC)

 

Readers are advised this article includes an image some may find distressing.

A letter tabled to budget estimates this week asked the state government to consider changing the legislation to specifically prohibit "the use of hunting dogs to hunt animals … in particular feral pigs".

The communication was written by members of the Oxley Rural Crime Unit, but in a statement NSW Police said the views expressed in the letter were not shared by NSW Police or the Rural Crime Prevention Team.

The letter states some hunting dogs are exposed to significant injuries, "rarely" receive professional veterinary treatment and that the practice has "little to no impact of feral pig numbers as compared to aerial culls".

The letter goes on to state that hunting dogs can also scatter pig populations into neighbouring properties and that the pests pose risks to biosecurity and human health.

The correspondence states police allocate "significant" resources and funding to prevent illegal trespassing from a "minority" of pig hunters that have been causing "anxiety, fear, anguish and anger" to rural landholders for decades.

The officers acknowledge in the letter that the '"divisive" activity is enjoyed by many law-abiding hunters, but the adverse impacts warrant a "fresh approach to the issue".

"Police request that consideration be given to legislative change, prohibiting the use of hunting dogs to hunt animals and in particular feral pigs," the letter said.

"It is requested that consideration be given to mandate those hunting activities as criminal offences, in a similar way bull fighting and other animal fighting activities are prohibited."

Three dogs in hunting jackets sit around the corpse of a large feral pig.
The Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association has disputed some of the claims made by police in the letter.(Supplied: Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association)

Hunters call for regulation

The Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association said the letter was "confusing".

National president Ned Makim said the association was also fed up with illegal hunters, but the solution was not an outright ban.

"What we've suggested is regulation of pig hunting with dogs with a licensing system," he said.

"At the moment the police have difficulty identifying who's legal and who's illegal."

Mr Makim rejected several claims in the letter, including that dogs disperse pigs into neighbouring properties and that the practice has little to no effect on wild pig numbers.

"There's no evidence of that anywhere — that's just a furphy," he said.

Mr Makim said the letter appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction to the police who were "not getting the job done".

"I'm not blaming them — it's a hard job," he said.

"You've got cops trying to cover areas the size of a country."

The association said legal pig hunters were a massive economic driver in the regions and that an effective pest control method that should not be prohibited because of the "abhorrent" practice of illegal hunters trespassing on properties.

A blonde woman standing outside a government building.
Emma Hurst tabled the letter in estimates and called for the recommendations to be followed.(ABC Central West: Xanthe Gregory)

'Legally dubious'

The letter was tabled in budget estimates on Wednesday by the Animal Justice Party's Emma Hurst.

She said the practice of pig hunting was already "legally dubious" and called for legislation to outlaw the dogs.

"It's already illegal to unnecessarily cause pain and suffering to an animal under the act, but this has never really been trialled in a court case in regards to pig-dogging," she said.

The NSW government has already committed to reviewing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 and updating the legislation to include bans on puppy farms and creating an independent office of animal welfare.

Ms Hurst said the review should include specific clauses to make hunting pigs with dogs illegal, which she said was cruel to both animals.

"It is absolutely horrific these animals, these pigs, are absolutely screaming for their lives," she said.

"It is such an extremely inhumane action — it can't be justified in any sense of the word."

Editor's note 23/2/2024: The story has been amended to clarify that members of the Oxley Rural Crime team wrote the letter that was tabled in parliament.

 

Are Australian pig hunters the nation's most effective environmentalists?

The Land pig image Feb 23, 24.jpg

Australian pig hunters could be removing an estimated one million pigs a month, according to data collected by the Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association. Picture supplied APDHA
 

The Land Newspaper, NSW
February 23 2024 - 5:00am

Queensland Country Life Newspaper, QLD
February 24 2024 - 4:00pm


Australian pig hunters could be removing an estimated one million pigs a month from the nation's prime agricultural and environmental resources, according to indications of data collected from the first month of the Great Australian Pig Hunt.
The Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association launched the Great Australian Pig Hunt on January 1, and its national president, Inverell's Ned Makim, believes this trend could upend the pig management model in Australia.
He says the contribution made by pig hunting has never been effectively measured when managing this pressing environmental issue.
He added that the association is planning at least two more research projects this year to focus increased attention on a decades-old problem.
The Great Australian Pig Hunt's launch as an information-gathering project will provide more concrete figures on how many pigs are removed from the environment by hunters and the value the hunters generate as voluntary environmentalists.
"Our participants report 4655 pigs killed in January," Mr Makim said. "That represents an activity rate of 45.8 per cent of hunters removing an average of 19.8 pigs monthly."
He said about 20 pigs a month 'felt right' based on his 46 years of field experience.
"But what is surprising is what that represents when viewed through the prism of previous research."
The association's own Keeping Count study of pig hunter numbers indicated the lower level of pig hunter numbers Australia-wide is 121,102. If that participation mirrors those numbers from the hunt participants (45.8 pc), it suggests that there is an active rate of 55,465 hunters chasing porkers each month. That many hunters are removing 19.8 pigs each month amounts to 1,098,207 pigs.
"That's a lot of pigs," Mr Makim said. "It will be a very challenging figure for the pig management bureaucracy operating within a paradigm that ignores hunting as a means of pig control, and that's what the data says at this point.
"NSW DPI data based on a 2023 report on the contribution of hunting to the economy found that pig hunters spent an average of $1035.12 a month on their lifestyle.
"So 55,465 active hunters could have injected $57,412,930.80 in January in their pursuit of pigs. Surely that's worth something in the feral pig debate?" Mr Makim said.
Mr Makim conceded it was too early in the data collection exercise to draw too many solid conclusions, but there were indications that hunters appeared to be making a significant contribution to feral pig control with a net economic gain for the Australian taxpayer.
The Great Australian Pig Hunt will continue to collect data until December 31, 2024, with monthly updates on the participation rate of removing pigs and the economic activity generated.
The APDHA is also working with two other significant data collection projects to assist in building the mass of information about feral pigs, their genealogy and activity in the landscape.
One project will gather 10,000 tissue samples from hunted pigs, and a second, more intensive project will seek to answer a significant list of questions about each pig killed.

The ABC takes a look at our feral pig research plans

Click below to listen...

tmp-53.uploadWe are all for itMedia Release Aug 3, 2021

NSW hunters racking up big numbers-page-001

 

 

 

THE APDHA’s application to present at the 19th Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference being held on July 29 -August 1 2024 in Sydney, NSW has been accepted. 
The application had to align with the theme of Collaboration and community coordination…
Our presentation is titled “ From hunters to gatherers: turning pig hunters into data gatherers to scale-up research opportunities” and the object is to shift the perception of hunters’ role in modern Australia.
Pig hunters earn their spot on stage - 26th April 2024
THE APDHA’s application to present at the 19th Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference being held on July 29 -August 1 2024 in Sydney, NSW has been accepted. The application had to align with the theme of Collaboration and community coordination… Our presentation is titled “ From hunters to gatherers: turning pig hunters into data gatherers to scale-up research opportunities” and the object is to shift the perception of hunters’ role in modern Australia.
Website: Conference details
For more information download this document