When Captain Cook landed at the Endeavour River in far north Queensland in 1770, a lot of things changed. Local indigenous people had what was probably their first encounter with Europeans, the outside world became aware of a place that would soon be explored and its resources exploited. And pigs came into FNQ.
Almost 250 years later, there are at least three million of them, maybe many more, roaming Cape York Peninsula, eating whatever they can. They’re the ideal genetic mix to survive and flourish, in this tough tropical climate. As the pigs thrive, other species suffer, none more so than the turtles that breed along the beaches of western Cape York.
Feral pigs dig up turtle nests not long after mother turtles lay their eggs in the sand, and they often come back for another go when the eggs are close to hatching. At some locations, rangers and scientists have observed 100 per cent of turtle nests wiped out by pigs. Other species will take turtle eggs – dingoes and goanna in particular, and other creatures try to take the hatchlings as they make their way to the sea. But the pigs take more eggs than other predators, and there are so many pigs that the turtles don’t stand much of a chance.
There are many local programs working to control pig numbers and to protect the two main species of turtle in the region – the Flatback and the Olive Ridley. Regional organisations have helped link those groups to broaden their scope and focus, but all are constrained by the regular fluctuations in government funding for research, observation and on the ground measures to get at the pigs and protect turtles. Pig hunting for sport or for meat is increasingly practised, but makes only a very small dent on total numbers.
Shane Forrester and Ben Jones have plenty of experience in this area of the Cape. Shane is the project manager of the Cape York Weeds & Feral Animals Program http://www.cywafap.org.au/home.html Ben is the project manager at the Cape York Sea Turtle Program http://capeyorkseaturtles.blogspot.com.au/
Shane and Ben talk about the scale of the feral pig problem, efforts to deal with it, the successes so far, and what more could be done.