Feral animals return to Ningaloo Coast under State Govt watch

Tom Zaunmayr and Zach RelphMidwest Times
050318mwtgnaralooturtles001 Sea turtle hatchlings at the southern end of the Ningaloo Reef.
Camera Icon050318mwtgnaralooturtles001 Sea turtle hatchlings at the southern end of the Ningaloo Reef. Credit: Gnaraloo Sea Turtle Conservation

Lacklustre State Government feral animal control is being blamed for the return of foxes, rise in wild dog numbers and potential accidental livestock culls on a Ningaloo pastoral station.

Coastline north of Carnarvon previously controlled by pastoralists was excised by the State Government in 2015 to establish a 70,400sqkm coastal reserve jointly managed with traditional owners.

Gnaraloo Station owner Paul Richardson warned the proposed Ningaloo Coast management plan, set to preserve the region’s bush camping experience, would hinder the area’s pastoral goat operations.

Mr Richardson said tagged goats would be mistaken as wild and be culled by Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions officials under the plan’s pest control.

“If they’re shooting, especially aerial shooting, how can they see stock that is tagged and not tagged,” he said.

“You can’t see an ear-tag from a helicopter.”

VideoA conservation program on the Ningaloo Coast is celebrating a decade of work protecting endangered turtles.

A DBCA spokeswoman said goat shooting could be implemented in areas where mustering was unviable.

“Where mustering is not a viable option due to terrain or low numbers of goats, then aerial or ground shoots may be carried out on DBCA managed tenure,” she said.

For turtle conservation efforts at Cape Farquhar and Gnaraloo Bay, the return of foxes is cause for concern.

Animal Pest Management Services managing director Mike Butcher said fox and dog numbers at Gnaraloo Station had increased fivefold since the State Government took over the coast.

“There hadn’t been any fox predation for seven years, and wild dogs were more a case of you’d get the odd dog rather than higher numbers that there currently are today,” he said.

“Paul is doing what he can, but the problem is the coastal strip where the water and the rabbits are.

“Foxes and wild dogs are just migrating across to this ecological sink where there is perfect habitat for them.”

Mr Butcher said a reduction in baiting had led to increased dog and fox numbers.

In a submission to the Ningaloo Coast draft management plan, Gnaraloo Wilderness Foundation echoed concerns feral predation on turtle nests was on the rise.

GWF chairwoman Karen Hattingh said nests had been predation-free for eight years under the foundation’s watch.

“We don’t know what the impacts are on turtle nests because it isn’t being monitored any more,” she said.

“The approach is not as integrated, cohesive or uniform as before and this introduces issues.

“We would like to continue with satellite tracking, flipper tagging and be involved in any way which can benefit that coastal area, but we have to be enabled to do so.”

DBCA said assessment of 2018-19 turtle monitoring was yet to be completed, but reports suggested very low predation.

“Since July 2015, DBCA has continued to support the ongoing feral animal control program along the Gnaraloo Bay and Cape Farquhar rookeries and has directly funded the use of the pest animal contractor.”

“In 2018, DBCA commenced a targeted feral cat control program using the new Eradicat Bait along the Farquhar/Gnaraloo Bay area.

“These baits are also known to be effective in fox control.”

Public comment on the draft plan closed on May 14.

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