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Hobby hunters the real feral beats in WA bush

DEC officer Ralp Staines with a trapped feral pig in the bush near Dwellingup in 2009. Picture: Barry Baker/The West Australian

Feral pig numbers are out of control from Geraldton in the north, through the Perth Hills, Collie, Donnybrook, Manjimup and Albany.

Pigs are causing major environmental damage to public lands and farmland, but efforts to deal with the problem through [|organised] management programs run by the Department of Parks and Wildlife are being frustrated by the illegal activities of hobby hunters.

These amateurs, dubbed “weekend cowboys” by farming groups, are contributing to the growing problem.

These weekend cowboys are breeding pigs in backyards, and releasing them on public land so they can hunt them in future with their dogs, firearms and knives.

Pig dumping is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2002 — it is illegal to release any animal anywhere for the purpose of hunting it.

The offence carries a possible fine of $50,000 and five years jail, but no weekend cowboy has ever, to my knowledge, been prosecuted for pig dumping.

It is difficult to get evidence. Farmers across the South West have told RSPCA WA of confrontations with hobby hunters, leading to threats to burn their farms, shoot their livestock and poison their dogs.

One farmer told us his neighbour, who confronted an amateur hunter about a damaged fence and gate and unauthorised hunting on his land, was threatened with a handgun.

Another farmer told an RSPCA WA inspector: “I don’t want to come home to find my place on fire, so I say nothing.”

Then there is the unspeakable cruelty, of which RSPCA WA has photographic evidence. Farmers have shot and killed pigs that, on closer inspection, are without ears and tails, and pigs have been seen with fencing wire (the ends sharpened) twisted through their ears.

These animals have been caught by pig hunters who have used sharp knives to cut off their ears and tails before releasing them back into the wild.

The idea is to make it harder for their dogs to hold and pull the pig to the ground next time the pig is bailed up.

The sharpened fencing wire is designed to give the dogs a good stab in the mouth when they try to drag the pig to the ground, making a more even contest between pig and dog for the hobby hunters to enjoy.

Many dogs are badly injured in the fights and RSPCA WA has images of pigs with ears torn to shreds from dog attacks.

There are other reports of hobby hunters catching feral pigs and bashing their bottom teeth out before releasing them.

This leads to excessive growth of the tusks, making for a potentially bloody fight between the pig and dogs in the future.

A Murdoch University study entitled Illegal Translocation and Genetic Structure of Feral Pigs in WA, found that dumping (most likely by amateur hunters) was contributing to the growth of the feral pig population in WA.

These activities also serve to make feral pigs extremely wary of human contact, making the task of professional hunters working with DPaW and local conservation or farming groups even more difficult.

RSPCA WA wants to see the State Government invest more resources into targeted, well-managed feral pest eradication programs, using professionals to remove pests humanely.

Hunters who are members of recognised recreational shooting organisations already have the opportunity to work with DPaW alongside professional shooters and trappers on such co-ordinated programs.

This is permitted under current legislation and DPaW policies.

We also want to see more resources put into catching and prosecuting hobby hunters who are acting illegally. Fines should be more of a deterrent — last month, a prosecution by DPaW against a man hunting pigs without authority in the Benger Swamp Nature Reserve resulted in a paltry $300 fine.

Amateur hunting (outside authorised pest eradication programs) in national parks, conservation parks and nature reserves is illegal. RSPCA WA does not want to see these activities made legal, but that is just what our State Government is looking at right now.

A parliamentary committee is conducting an inquiry into whether recreational hunting could contribute to environmental management and be allowed on WA public land.

All of the evidence shows that recreational hunting is damaging the environment, frustrating proper pest management programs and intimidating landholders.

RSPCA WA stands with local farming and conservation groups in calling for the Government to develop a comprehensive and properly resourced feral pest management strategy and is willing to assist in the development of this, ensuring animal welfare is a priority.

Amateur shooters working alongside professional pest managers as part of an organised control strategy already have an opportunity to hunt pest animals, so why are we even considering the outrageous concept of a free-for-all on our public lands?

The parliamentary inquiry is due to report to State Parliament on March 10.

[|Lynne Bradshaw is president of] RSPCA WA