Deer are among the world’s most successful invasive species and can have substantial negative impacts on natural and agricultural ecosystems. They are considered one of Australia’s worst emerging pest animal problems.
Six species have established wild populations in Australia: the fallow, chital, red, rusa, sambar and hog deer. Numbers of all six are increasing, with populations expanding into new areas.
Most wild deer are currently in south-east Australia, which is where accidental and deliberate releases have occurred in the past. A recent study based on bioclimatic analysis, however, has suggested that most of the species already present in Australia are well-suited to the tropical and subtropical climates of northern Australia. Thus, they could potentially occupy most of the continent, including parts of the arid interior.
In Australia, deer are classified differently, depending on which state they are found. In Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia they are classified as a pest species.
But the south-eastern states have not. NSW has listed the damage caused by deer as a key threatening process. Yet under current laws in this state, deer are also protected as a hunting resource. NSW is not alone. Tasmania lists them as partly protected wildlife, and in Victoria they are essentially treated as a protected game species for recreational hunters despite also being listed as a key threat under Victorian threatened species legislation.
In March 2016, an independent review by the Natural Resources Commission recommended NSW make deer a pest species. Such a move was not supported by the NSW Government, who are obviously too worried about the political repercussions from denying deer hunters their sport.
Making feral deer a pest species would give land managers and governments the power to tackle this growing environmental and agricultural threat head on, rather than being constrained by current laws that protect feral deer. We also need to prevent further deer farm escapes and the deliberate ‘seeding’ of new areas by hunters.
Because, to address this pest we need concerted efforts to prevent new populations; to eradicate small, isolated populations; and to contain other wild populations.
- Janet Cavanaugh