Aerial approach to feral pig control

June 2, 2017

Feral pigs impact agricultural productivity and environmental resources

Feral pigs impact agricultural productivity and environmental resources

Western Australian researchers are using thermal sensors attached to aircraft and drones to detect feral pigs, as part of a trial aimed at strengthening management of the significant pest animals.

The project, led by the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), will evaluate methods to quantify feral pig populations using aerially deployed thermal sensors.

The work is being delivered in partnership with Murdoch University and the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife, with funding support from the Australian Government over two years.

It is one of 23 projects funded through the national Control Tools and Technologies for Established Pest Animals and Weeds Program.

DAFWA development officer and Murdoch researcher Dr Peter Adams said feral pigs significantly impacted on agricultural productivity and environmental resources.

“Effective management of feral pigs requires accurate methods of assessing population or density changes in response to control measures or environmental changes,” Dr Adams said.

“Populations of feral pigs typically occur in remote areas and they favour dense or impenetrable habitats that are difficult to access and therefore monitor.

“Aerial surveys can overcome difficulties in accessing these habitats; however, the cryptic behaviour of feral pigs can still reduce the ability to detect them.

 Aircraft with thermal sensor

Dr Adams is using thermal senors attached to Remotely Piloted Aircraft to detect feral pigs

“Using thermal sensors on aerial platforms such as Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) or drones can significantly improve detection and reduce operational costs, enabling more effective assessment of feral pig populations.”

Dr Adams said aerial operations of many types, including the use of helicopters, were traditionally complicated and expensive, and were therefore out of the financial reach of community-led groups.

“This project will evaluate using lower cost thermal sensors coupled with RPA to be able to deliver a cheaper monitoring approach which provides comparable accuracy and information,” he said.

“We will undertake a cost benefit analysis comparing the use of drones with traditional monitoring techniques such as aerial observation, remote camera trapping and monitoring impacts.

“A monitoring tool will be developed which will be able to evaluate the success of feral pig control programs as well as identifying existing population densities and detecting increases in abundance or range expansions.

“These actions are crucial to ensuring that management groups are as well informed as possible and that control strategies are appropriate for the feral pig issues at hand.

"This initiative will assist our farmers and land managers with staying on the front foot in the fight against pest animals to limit the impact they can have on our land, produce and industries."

If not managed, it is estimated that feral pigs could cause average production losses of $4.6 million per annum in South West WA alone.  Nationally, feral pigs have been estimated to cost the Australian economy in excess of $106 million per annum in production losses and management costs.

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