Discovery on suburban road exposes 'worst emerging' problem in Australia

The rapid spread of wild deer, an invasive pest, is wreaking havoc on Australia's environment and agriculture, but it's boosting your car insurance premiums too.

Wild dear roaming street in Alford point, walking in front garden.
A wild dear was spotted roaming a suburban street in Alford Point, in Sydney's south this week. Source: Facebook

A startling discovery on a suburban street has highlighted a serious problem plaguing Australia, with wild deer sightings rapidly increasing as they continue to invade new land. The feral animals have been dubbed "the worst emerging pest species" in the country, and it's costing the agricultural industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but the average Aussie has reason to be concerned too.

While residents in Sydney's Sutherland Shire were pleased to see a large deer roaming the front garden of a home in Alfords Point this week, with one resident filming the encounter, the sighting speaks to a larger problem bubbling away.

"They have an impact on road users, they cause degradation of the environment and they have a negative impact on agriculture. And in the city, it's about the impact they have in digging up people's gardens and sending people's car insurance premiums higher," Jack Gough from the Invasive Species Council told Yahoo News Australia.

"Feral deer trash, they trample, and they pollute our environment," he lamented.

"They're a serious pest."

While the wild animals can be found across most of Australia, they are in largest numbers in the eastern parts of Victoria and New South Wales, where they are spreading at a "huge speed".

According to Gough, the deer population in New South Wales over the last decade has been expanding at a rate of about 2 million hectares every year. "The numbers in southeast Australia have gone from about 200,000 to about 2 million in the last two decades. So a tenfold increase over that two-decade period," he said.

Southern Sydney and the Illawarra have "copped it the worst," he said. "But they're increasingly spreading into the Blue Mountains, into other areas of the state and moving westward."

Two deer in front garden at home in Sutherland Shire.
Two dear were spotted in the front yard of another Sutherland Shire home in 2019. Source: The Leader

Over the years, more and more residents have reported seeing deer outside their homes, or on urban streets, particularly in the southern Sydney area. It's a far way from the forest and national parks they usually roam, and it's proof of their spread.

"People will be seeing deer in urban areas more during winter, and that's because we tend to be out in darkness or semi-darkness in winter months. We do know that there is a real increase in the number of reports of deer every winter," Gough said.

But as the numbers increase in an area, "you'll see them more frequently throughout the day" as is the case in Alford Point this week. "Certainly, they're more common in the hours of the early morning and then dusk. But as the numbers increase, people see them more," he added.

In most states and territories, deer are a protected species, so culling them has not been an option. However, NSW changed its regulations in 2015 to allow for deer to be hunted on private land while controlled government-led programmes have been introduced to help maintain the growing populations in open areas.

Areal shooting using thermal scopes has been the most effective method to control populations in national parks, such as the Royal National Park in Sydney's south, however, it's not allowed in state forests.

Because of the large numbers, eradication is near impossible. “Now it's about basically long-term management. It'll be an ongoing maintenance," Gough said.

"People are going to forever be seeing deer in their backyards, on the roads, and trashing and trampling that National Park and surrounding gardens and bushland".

Deer eating grass in Alfords Point, Sydney.
Deer is often found roaming in southern Sydney suburbs, surprising locals. Source: facebook

Automotive authorities including NRMA and RACV in Victoria are also “very concerned” about deer populations and want governments to do more. In March, NRMA Insurance data revealed a 34 per cent spike in claims due to animal collisions in 2023 compared to 2022, however the the number of deer-related incidents is unknown.

"[Deer] is actually raising the insurance premiums for road users because so many accidents are caused by deer," Gough said. "A large buck running into [your car] is going to cause a huge amount of damage to your vehicle".

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