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Feral Animals - Wild dogs, foxes and cats

Feral animals, including wild dogs, foxes and feral cats can have a significant impact on livestock and wildlife. In Australia, feral animals typically have few natural predators or fatal diseases and high reproductive rates. As a result, they have a high survival rate and can form large populations, often to the detriment of native species.  Feral animals impact on native species by predation, competition for food and shelter, destroying habitat, and by spreading diseases. Feral animals impact on a range of livestock, mainly through predation and transmission of disease.

Wild Dogs

Wild dog refers to any dog living in the wild and can be divided into three groups.

Dingoes (Canis lupus dingo); native dogs brought from Asia around 5000 years ago which are related to wolves. Pure dingoes are populations or individual that have not hybridised with domestic dogs. Feral dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) were once domesticated but are now living wild. Hybrid dogs result from cross breeding of dingoes and domestic or feral dogs.

In NSW under the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998 wild dogs, including dingoes, have been declared a pest animal throughout NSW. 

Red Fox

The European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has a natural distribution across the continents of Europe, Asia and North America. Foxes were deliberately introduced into Australia in the 1850’s for recreational hunting. A range of characteristics combine to make the fox an extremely successful invasive animal including having a wide dietary range, few serious diseases, few natural enemies, a high reproductive rate and a high rate of cub survival. Foxes have been implicated in the extinction of a number of native animals. 

Feral Cats

Feral cats (Felis catus) were introduced to Australia early during European settlement and were established in the wild by 1850. Intentional releases were made in the late 1800s in the hope that cats would control rabbits, rats and mice. Feral cats are now found in most habitats on the mainland, Tasmania and many offshore islands. Feral cats pose a threat to more native species than any other pest animal or weed.

Feral Animal Management 

The control of wild dogs in NSW is legislated by the Rural Lands Protection Board Act 1998 which requires the owners and occupiers of land to continuously suppress and destroy wild dogs on their property. The management of wild dogs in NSW is therefore the responsibility of the land owner or manager. Predation and hybridization by feral dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), has been listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995

Red foxes and feral cats are classed as nuisance animals in NSW and while there is no obligation for a landholder to control these species, they are recognised as a significant threat to biodiversity through the declaration of ‘Predation by the European Red Fox’ and ‘Predation by the Feral Cat’ as a key threatening processes under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Threat Abatement Plans have been prepared for the Red fox under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and for feral cats under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. These plans provide a strategy for managing the threats and impacts posed by these species. 

Schedule 2 - Dingo Conservation Areas

To balance the need to control wild dogs with the conservation of dingoes, Pest Control Order 17 allows the general destruction obligation for lands listed under Schedule 2 of the Order to be satisfied through the preparation of a Wild Dog Management Plan. Wild Dog Management Plans for these areas include both control and conservation objectives. Schedule 2 areas in Byron Shire include Mt Jerusalem, Goonengerry and Nightcap National Park and Whian Whian State Conservation Area. 

Control options

Determining the most appropriate method for managing the impact of pest animals needs to consider several factors including efficacy, cost-effectiveness, practicality, target specificity, operator safety, and also humaneness (or animal welfare impact). Options include:

  • Baiting using 1080
  • Trapping
  • Shooting
  • Exclusion fence and guard animals

National Codes of Practice (COPs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the humane control of pest animals must be complied with when undertaking control programs.

The most effective approach to feral animal management involves a nil tenure approach where management is coordinated between all land managers. Landholders are encouraged to speak with their neighbours and co-ordinate control programs over multiple properties.

Need Assistance?

The North Coast Livestock Health and Pest Authority (LHPA) assists landholders to manage wild dogs through:

  • Advice
  • Supply of baits
  • Assistance with co-ordinating baiting programs
  • Developing wild dog management plans 

Landholders experiencing impacts from wild dogs should report these to the North Coast Local Land Services on 6623 9300. 

Sightings of feral animals, including wild dogs, should be reported to Council on 6626 7000. This information will be recorded to inform the management of feral animals in the Shire. 

Council has prepared a Feral Animal Management Plan which outlines how it will work in collaboration with land managers and agencies to undertake control programs. Council facilitates a soft jaw trapping program which is planned in collaboration with baiting programs undertaken by landholders and National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Landholders experiencing impacts from feral animal can contact Council and enquire about getting involved in the soft jaw trapping as part of an integrated approach to feral animal control. A fee per carcass is required to be paid by the landholder for any animals trapped on their property.

Responsible Pet Ownership

Domestic pets can also have a negative impact on livestock and wildlife and pet owners should take appropriate steps to ensure their pets are not allowed to roam unsupervised, particularly in rural and bushland areas. More information about responsible pet ownership can be found at: http://www.byron.nsw.gov.au/companion-animals 

Further reading and resources 

North Coast Local Land Services

Feral.org - contains information on vertebrate pest animal species in Australia and New Zealand. Browse the site for general information or use the search function for more specific results. 

Invasive Animal CRC - Australia’s largest integrated invasive animal research program. 

NSW Department of Environment and Heritage 

Department of Primary Industries