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Top Ten Invasive Pests of Australia

By Edited Sep 8, 2016 4 9

Introduced Species Which Have Caused Problems

Invasive species are a problem for all countries and Australia is no exception. Despite being an 'island' in a sense, a number of mammal and bird species have been introduced and have proven to be a major headache for authorities and others.

The following are ten of the worst of the introduced species.

  1. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) was introduced into Australia in the 18th century for the purpose of recreational hunting. A release into the wild in 1859 saw them quickly become widespread. The winters were mild and the rabbits bred all year.
    Rabbit-Proof Fence

    Even a rabbit-proof fence built from north to south across the country could not stop them entering Western Australia.
    Rabbit Plague

    They are now found extensively throughout Australia. The introduction of myxomatosis gave a measure of control until the rabbits built up a genetic resistance to it. Calicivirus (RHD) has also been used.

  2. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was introduced in 1855, also for recreational hunting purposes. They are found over most of mainland Australia and there are small numbers in Tasmania. The threat level from the fox is estimated to be extreme.
    Red Fox(97815)

    They are an elusive and prolific predator of native animals and livestock. With the increased interest in controlling the population because of the impact on our native wildlife, there is now an attempt at controlling their numbers by laying baits. Baits containing fluoroacetate (1080) are effective in the south-west of Western Australia as some of the indigenous plants contain the same substance and the local wildlife is immune to it. However the poison affects quolls and the Tasmanian devil in other areas.

  3. The dromedary [camel] (Camelus dromedarius) was introduced from India in 1840 as a beast of burden. It was used as a draught animal to cart goods into the agricultural areas and to bring wool and other produce back to the coast. When motorised transport took over, some camels were simply let loose to fend for themselves and some escaped.

    They are now found extensively throughout Central Australia where the arid conditions suit them perfectly. Their threat level is placed at medium to high. Helicopter culling is carried out from time to time.

  4. The feral goat (Capra hircus) also began with escapees or deliberate releases. The goat is another animal which has found the Australian climate very much to its liking and, on outback stations, it competes with sheep and cattle for what little food and water is available.

    Feral Goat

    There have been some attempts to muster them and export them for their meat but the quality is variable and methods somewhat haphazard. Helicopter culling is sometimes attempted but numbers are so great that the method is likely to have little permanent effect.

  5. The feral pig (Sus scrofa) was also brought in as domestic livestock. They were introduced in 1788. There is now an estimated 13 to 23 million of them.

    Feral Pig Distribution

    They are prolific breeders, difficult to control as they are wily and adept at losing themselves in the bush. They destroy the environment, spoil natural watering points and have the potential to spread disease. There is some attempt at control wild pig populations by ground and helicopter culling, poisoning, trapping and mustering.

  6. The donkey came out in the early days along with all the other types of domestic animals. Again they flourished in the mild climate and they are a significant problem on the stations of the outback.
    Feral Donkeys

    Like all the feral animals that graze, they compete with both native and domestic stock for available food and water.

    Any non-native herbivore competes with native species for (often) limited grazing.

  7. Feral cats are the most widespread and invasive of all introduced species. Cats decimate native wildlife. They are very efficient hunters and it is highly likely that the feral cat has been responsible for the extinction of some species of small mammals. Shooting and trapping are measures used against the feral cat. On small islands, these controls have been reasonably effective and some islands have been restocked with native animals.

  8. The cane toad (Bufo marinus) looks like being the most harmful of all the invasive species. It was brought into Queensland to combat the cane beetle but has since begun an inexorable spread right across the Top End of Australia and is now heading down the west coast.
    Cane Toad(97807)

    It has poisonous glands behind the head. The native eastern quoll has been decimated in parts of its range as it eats the toad and is poisoned. Even the tadpoles are toxic. Birds, lizards and snakes are succumbing too. The black kite has learnt to flip the toad on its back and attack the soft belly thus avoiding the poison glands. The saw-shelled turtle appears to be immune to the poison too. There is a spate of scientific research happening in a bid to find some means of dealing with the numbers. Females lay single clump spawns which contain thousands of eggs. They eat anything and everything.

  9. The Common Indian Mynah bird (Acridotheres tristis) is another invasive pest. It was introduced in 1860 on the east coast. It was first introduced to eat insect pests. After land clearing, it is the number one threat to native birds.
    Indian Mynah

    The mynah is an aggressive bird, hunting away native species, competing for nests and even turfing out other chicks. Even small mammals such as the feather-tailed glider are threatened by these birds. Commonly called the 'garbage bird', it finds rich pickings wherever there is human habitation. This cocky brown and black bird with the yellow eye-patch is listed by the IUCN in its '100 of the World's Most Invasive Species'.

  10. The rock pigeon or rock dove (Columba livia) is an invasive species in many countries. In the wild, they are grey with two black bars on the wings. Feral populations can be a variety of colours and can be seen in their thousands in towns and cities.
    Rock Pigeon

    The faeces of the rock pigeon are acidic and cause damage to property including stone buildings and monuments. Pigeons are usually monogamous and have two chicks or squeakers per brood.

Other introduced invasive species include the water buffalo and common starling. Feral horses (brumbies) are sometimes culled, usually amid great controversy. The dingo was introduced before Europeans arrived on the continent but is now mostly considered a 'native' animal.



May 11, 2012 1:12pm
It is interesting how the European rabbits built up a genetic resistance to myxomatosis, and that they and the Red Fox was brought to Australia for recreational hunting. The Feral Cats sound so annoying, and the Cane Toads are scary. These are all invasive pests indeed! Good article, JudyE. "Thumbs-Up!"
May 11, 2012 3:23pm
The scariest of them in the wild pig, been to a few camping grounds where they have been living and it makes for a long night when you can hear them. Cane Toads are just annoying,and they have become subject to many Cane Toad hunting nights.I can't say that i have ever seen a wild donkey but it would be quite a suprise if i did. :)
May 11, 2012 5:35pm
Excellent article which also brought back a few memories. I remember as a kid seeing thousands of rabbits at my uncles farm and there were many strategies employed to eradicate them (kangaroos were also considered to same way and were shot in high numbers. The cane toad however made going for a walk at my grandmothers place in north Queensland an unpleasant experience, but then you didn't want to go to the beach either because of the rock fish and jelly fish.
May 11, 2012 7:35pm
Thanks for the comments folks.
Introspective - the deer was introduced for hunting too but I don't think it got going in Australia like the others. It thrives better in Tasmania and New Zealand.
Misskate - I've known of horse-riders suddenly being accosted by angry sows. I wouldn't like camping somewhere where they were around. I know they get some huge ones in Queensland but I couldn't find a photo of a big one.
Etcetera - my parents got through the Depression by laying poison trails at night with a horse and cart then going back next morning, picking up and skinning the dead ones and selling the skins at a shilling each. Times have changed!
May 23, 2012 3:18am
Another great article, Its funny about the rabbits I still remember how bad they were but after traveling across Australia on this trip I have only seen 1 rabbit. About 3 dead wild pigs,, 2 live camels, so far only 1 cane toad(yuk in Queensland now so will see more I reckon, several Ferrel cats and a few wild goats( there are heaps of goats up north of WA) Enjoyed this article
May 23, 2012 5:44am
Thanks Eileen. I'm not looking forward to the cane toads getting down our way which I guess they'll have to eventually. Hope you're enjoying Queensland. Our friends are heading that way in a caravan in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for the comment too.
Jul 9, 2012 9:00am
Thank you for another interesting article. I had heard that rabbits were a problem in Australia, but didn't know that camels and some of the other animals were. Fascinating information!! I hope I get to visit your lovely country someday.
Jul 9, 2012 9:02am
Wow! I had no idea camels could present a problem. I have heard of the problems caused by the feral hogs, especially the danger to humans.
Jul 14, 2012 2:31am
Hello Jack. Somehow I missed this comment. Sorry for not replying. Feral male camels can be a huge danger to anyone tracking through the country with camels, particularly female camels - and there are a few people that do this from time to time and some that do it more or less permanently. Thanks for reading.
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