Feature

Battle of pig Vs dog: censored

Green Lifestyle

'Pig dogging' to control feral pigs can be nasty business, so we go on a pig hunt to snout-out the conservation and animal welfare issues for you.

Geoffrey

Pig dogging can be a bloody business, which is why the dogs wear protective breastplates. Animal Liberation NSW says it is clearly inhumane for both the pig and the dog.

Credit: Ned Makim

Wild pigs

A mob of wild pigs in Northern NSW. A mob's size can vary greatly, but considering a sow can have up to 30 piglets over two years, it is easy to see how control efforts are struggling to keep up.

Credit: Ned Makim

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Running through the overwhelming dark undergrowth with trees snagging my jacket, I try to follow the barking and torches that are fading ahead of me. As I stumble over roots I hear the distinctive, piercing squeal of a pig, and then suddenly silence. The chase is over and the hunter returns to his ute to carve up the dead pig for dog meat. Later that same evening, I also witness dogs chasing down another pig, and holding it while the hunter stabbed it through the heart. It’s a sobering sight, and one which is surprisingly common across Australia.

Eurasian Wild Boars and domesticated pigs were introduced to Australia with the arrival of European settlers. Wild populations quickly established as pigs – which are quite clever animals – escaped.

On a pig hunt, the dogs wear trackers to allow hunters to follow their whereabouts via GPS. The dogs follow the pigs' scent, and if the GPS shows that the dogs have stopped, the hunter knows they've found a pig. The dogs wear protective breastplates to shield them from the boar's tusks.

The dogs are specially-trained to track the scent of a wild pig, chase it, and then hold it until the hunter can then kill the pig either by shooting it, or stabbing it in the heart. Guns are rarely used to shoot the pig as this would increase the risk of injuring the highly-trained dogs.

Pig dogging is just one method used to attempt to control the wild pig population. According to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, it is illegal to bait one animal against the other in Australia, with pig dogging being the only exception. Animal welfare campaigners want that to change.

Controlling a smart pest
Pig dogging is often considered by landowners the most effective form of controlling the feral pig population. This is because pigs tend to shelter in long grass; where a hunter may have trouble firing a clean shot, dogs can sniff them out.

For both farmers and conservationists, wild pigs can be a significant problem. Des Boyland, from community environment organisation Wildlife Queensland (WPSQ), outlines a large number of threats this non-native species can pose including damaging the soil surface through rooting which can lead to bank erosion, disease transmission, and damage to flora through tusking and trampling.


Pigs can do a lot of damage to the land through wallowing and rooting. Credit: Peter West, Invasive Animals CRC.

“The feral pig is a declared Class 2 pest animal under Queensland legislation. From a conservation perspective, if there was one feral pig in Queensland, it would be one too many,” Boyland told Green Lifestyle. Class 2 pests are those considered to have, or that could have, an adverse economic, environmental or social impact.

Conservation concerns have also been raised about hunters releasing pigs into areas in which there previously were none. This is known as ‘seeding’, and is done to create hunting stock for future hunts.

As for graziers and farmers, wild pigs can have a huge impact on their livelihoods. Jenny Magner, a property owner in southern Queensland, explains how in 2013 and 2014, “our melon and pumpkin crops suffered severe damage from pigs, in the hundreds of tonnes.” Damage to agricultural production by feral pigs is estimated to exceed $100 million per year.

Feral pigs also pose a risk to livestock. “We lose many lambs to pigs,” says Magner. "And until recently we thought they probably only ate orphan or dead lambs, but to our horror we have personally witnessed feral pigs attacking, maiming, killing and eating perfectly healthy lambs.”

Animal welfare issues
While wild pigs pose problems for both farmers and conservationists, it’s the way in which hunters deal with them that is concerning.

Animal Liberation NSW campaigns against the use of dogs in pig hunting, and has run a petition since 2011 to have it banned in New South Wales. “It represents the cruelest, most barbaric, and least effective form of hunting in Australia. Hunted pigs can be mauled for long periods and even killed before their human handlers are able to kill the trapped animals,” says Lynda Stoner, CEO of Animal Liberation NSW. “Pig doggers especially like getting up close and personal when they kill, they enjoy the blood,” she adds.

For some hunters, pig dogging is a blood sport in which both pigs and dogs suffer unduly. In some cases, the dogs used in the hunt are injured or even killed by the pig. In a report by ABC in 2012 hunters make reference to the “adrenaline rush” they get when pig dogging and the footage of pigs being stabbed in the stomach before being dispatched can be distressing to watch. According to the NSW Government Model Code for the Humane Culling of Feral Pigs, the animal should be killed by a direct knife to the heart, but this is not always adhered to.

“There are several glossy magazines around with names like Aussie Boar Hunters and Bacon Busters,” says Stoner. Centrefolds depict “women straddling the corpses of dead pigs… and toddlers and young children astride corpses. Often the photographs have beer cans shoved into the mouths of dead pigs and other ‘comedic’ poses.” Clearly, for some it is a sport.

Is more ethical hunting an option?
There are hunters who feel pig dogging for conservation purposes can be practiced in a humane and responsible way. The Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association (APDHA) condemns cruel practice and instead promotes ‘humane and ethical hunting’.

Of roughly 30,000 pig doggers in Queensland and NSW, about 2,000 are members of APDHA. Members must sign a strict code of conduct which specifically references welfare issues, detailing how both dogs and pigs be treated, and a discipline policy is in place.

Ned Makim from APDHA says that as part of his culture and that, “as a conservationist I hunt in defence of the natural and agricultural environment… if something is to be killed it is killed quickly, efficiently and without a lot of fuss.”

Makim’s property backs onto a 5,000 acre nature reserve where he traps and removes foxes to support the local marsupial mouse population. He professionally controls feral animals in the winter and gardens for a living in the summer. He even has his own organic vegie patch.

For Makim, hunting is not about the killing, it’s about the hunting. “Ethical, legal hunters focus on the welfare of the dogs and the pigs as a matter of course. Experienced hunters breed and train dogs to exert the minimum force necessary to keep the pig in one spot so it can be safely and humanely killed. It is definitely not a gladiatorial contest. It’s about efficiency.” The Association also provides training, advice and workshops to help pig hunters achieve this level of control.

Perhaps those with the right education and training make sure hunting with dogs is as humane as such an activity can be. There’s no question the feral pig population needs to be controlled, but are there other more suitable ways of doing this?

Banning pig dogging
Despite the concerns Wildlife Queensland raises about pigs, they would support a ban on pig dogging due to its ineffectiveness at controlling the population of this feral species.

Animal Liberation NSW is actively calling for a complete ban on pig dogging to put an end to a “sport which is unspeakably cruel to pigs, and too often dogs.” Stoner also feels that exposing toddlers and young people to “these kinds of torture and death cannot be healthy for them psychologically… any activity resulting in the terror and suffering of an animal has no place in our society.”

But Makim, among with many property owners, feels that without pig dogging, the most obvious impact would be the dramatic increase in the wild pig population and the cost of its management. He claims APDHA members remove about 300,000 pigs a year at their own cost, and commercial hunters and non-members will remove a lot more with no cost to the public purse.

The biggest worry for people like Magner and Makim is that wild pigs can facilitate the transmission of diseases, such as foot and mouth in farm animals, bovine tuberculosis and swine fever, which can be devastating for farmers’ livelihoods – so something needs to be done.

Makim says he believes that current “government financed pig control measures aren’t keeping up with the pigs now. It would be even further out of reach without hunters. Why not work with hunters to find common ground rather than trying to make a new raft of unworkable laws?”


A feral animal camera shows a sow and her piglets. Motion activated camera used by hunters to 'pattern' (determine the movement and location of) individual pigs as well as mobs. Credit: Ned Makim.

Alternatives to pig dogging
Other methods used to control the wild pig population include shooting, baiting and trapping. Jenny Magner uses all these on her land but finds pig dogging the most effective: “the dogs are particularly effective as they scent out unseen pigs in long grass, heavy bush and along river banks,” she says. But she does also admit that, “despite our best control efforts, pig numbers are not decreasing and this is a huge worry for all farmers.”

However, according to Boyland of WPSQ, “it is well established that the use of hunters to control feral pigs is seldom effective. Hunters usually only take a small percentage of the population… it is not a sustainable way to control feral pigs.”

Boyland suggests that poisoning and baiting are the most common approach, but the use of 1080 poison is something he’s reluctant to condone – it’s only done because it is the only cost effective approach for large-scale control. Once ingested, 1080 can take several hours to take effect and there are concerns about it contaminating other species and water sources. Wildlife Queensland are also encouraging research into alternatives, currently “it is a question of balancing two evils – the use of 1080 and the environmental damage.”

However, pigs are pretty smart, and they're thought to have the cognitive abilities of a four-year old child and Makim has found that, “pigs learn and many won’t enter a trap, or pick up poison baits.”

Shooting is another option and can be a quick way to kill a pig. But, unlike kangaroo shooting in Australia, hunters do not currently have to pass a skill test to be able to shoot feral animals. Consequently, less skilled or experienced hunters can miss and instead cause the animal severe injury.

Sterilisation is also a method of control currently being discussed by some. Sally Hall, a PhD student at the University of Newcastle spoke to Radio National’s Science Show last year about her research into non-renewable germ cells that lead to non-surgical sterilisation. This form of sterilisation harms no other cells and is species specific so no threat is posed to native or endangered animals.

However, because of feral pigs’ widespread distribution, trapping to inject them or baiting will have to be used, which will be a laborious task considering the population is currently estimated at 24 million. And pigs are smart. Will they just avoid the traps and bait required for sterilisation like many claim they already do?

The jury is still out on if there is one method that is more effective than the other. APDHA believes that the long-term solution requires taking into account all hunting and control methods. While Stoner from Animal Liberation NSW says because feral animal control is a huge business and profit can be made, other options, such as sterilisation are not widely considered.

It's clear that pig dogging is not humane for the pigs, and is a method that causes severe suffering for feral pigs. “More funds should and must be put into humane options,” says Stoner. And there's a definite need to increase the limited research on feral pig sterilisation.

For more info visit:
www.wildlife.org.au
www.animal-lib.org.au
www.apdha.org.au

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The author, Jessica Crisp, did a farm stay in northern NSW where a pig hunt was happening with her going or not – so with her inquisitive journalistic mind, she decided to trail behind from a distance to try to understand what happens at a pig hunt. Read Jessica's blog about the rest of her farm stay here.