Defining metrics of success for feral animal management in northern Australia

In northern Australia, there is growing recognition of the importance of wetlands to biodiversity and ecosystem health, along with their cultural value to Indigenous communities. Feral pigs and cattle pose significant threats to wetland system ecology and biodiversity through negative impacts on wetland vegetation assemblages, biological communities and water quality.

In this project, we quantified the impact of feral species on wetland condition, the effectiveness of control measures on mitigating the threats to aquatic systems, and the subsequent impact on cultural wetland values. To do this, we defined, evaluated and calibrated metrics used to describe the impacts.

To capture the complexity of metrics that describe both biophysical and cultural impacts of feral pig management, a collaborative team of ecologists, human geographers, Traditional Owners and land managers developed an integrated monitoring and reporting framework to monitor and report on wetland biophysical values with cultural ecosystem services research. The framework, which strongly emphasises embedding cultural values and supporting Indigenous-led management and planning, enables the comparison of investment in control, with consequent impacts on environmental values.

The project had five general components:

  • aggregation of an extensive baseline data set for Queensland’s Archer River basin to assess change under future investment strategies
  • generation of new wetland/waterhole typologies for the Archer River basin to support modelling of the spatial and temporal distribution of feral pigs
  • development of a cultural ecosystem service wetland typology to support wetland management on Wik Peoples’ traditional lands
  • cost–benefit analysis of selected control methods for feral pigs
  • development of a reporting system for assessing the impact of feral pig management on aquatic systems.

Project outputs can be used by land managers to identify priority wetlands for targeted management while providing a means to evaluate the impact of current feral species management. The monitoring methodologies are replicable and allow land managers to review change over time. The establishment of new wetland typologies supersedes old typologies that didn’t support the modelling of feral pig data and omitted cultural values. Cost–benefit analysis of select control methods for feral pigs enables the comparison of investment against impacts, supporting better future decision making for land managers.

Map of the Archer River (colour)

This research took place in the Archer River basin in north Queensland but the adaptive management framework proposed here can be used across northern Australia.


  • Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island visitors are warned that this website may contain images or videos of deceased persons.
  • The interactive dashboard aggregates the project data into an accessible interface.
  • Mesh protects turtle hatchlings from predation but still enables them to head for the ocean, photo by Gina Zimny.
  • Turtles survey team on Cape York beach, photo by Gina Zimny
  • Turtle surveys are essential for improving our understanding, photo by Gina Zimny
  • Rangers at work on Cape York, photo by Gina Zimny.
  • Hatchingling makes its way out of a nest, photo by Gina Zimny
  • Pig tracks showing movement between wetland areas, photo Peter Negus
  • Feral pig wallow adjacent to wetland, photo Peter Negus.
  • Kalan rangers completing annual wetland monitoring at one of the fenced lagoons near Coen as part of the Balkanu led feral pig project. Photo: Michael Lawrence-Taylor
  • Feral pigs, photo Michael Lawrence-Taylor.
  • Kalan rangers learning how to collect soil samples, which will be used to demonstrate changes to wetlands following pig exclusion, photo Justin Perry.
  • Feral pig damage.
  • Feral pigs, photo Samantha Setterfield.
  • Feral buffalo, photo Samantha Setterfield.
  • Before and after: these photos demonstrate the damage caused to wetlands when feral pigs and cattle aren’t excluded, photo Kalan Enterprises.