News | 7 February 2023
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Pest management: It’s no goat

We live in a dog-eat-dog world, but what happens when pigs start eating goats?

Feral goat.
Image from Greater Wellington Regional Council.

As the in-house Biosecurity Specialist Pest Management for Wellington City Council, Henk Louw is never short of a good work story.

He recalls a particular incident where he had to track down a feral pig that had developed a taste for goats. 

“It was a thing of nightmares. This pig was hunting for food and wreaked havoc on an unsuspecting herd of kid goats on a local farm. I suspect that it had fed on goats before and followed a scent trail to the goat farm.” Henk says.

Feral pigs are outlined as pest animals according to the Regional Pest Management Plan by the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

They cause extensive damage to the environment and are tricky to control in Wellington, especially due to property boundaries, says Henk.

A pig caught foraging.
Night footage of a feral pig.

“I know of situations where wild pigs have taken and eaten lambs during lambing season. They wait until the lambs are born, then move in and take them, much to the frustration of farmers and the ewes.

“When they roam, they dig up the soil and this leaves the soil open to erosion and weeds. Pigs don’t care about property boundaries and run between them, so they are challenging to control.”

At Wellington City Council, pest management is run by the Urban Ecology team and contracted out to professionals with specialty skills. They work in collaboration with private landowners as some Council land borders private land.

The pest management plan outlines what landowners should focus on. In addition to rats, possums, weasels and stoats which are to be eradicated, Wellington City Council also focuses on wild pigs, deer and goats, says Henk.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve removed over 11,000 wild goats, which is a huge effort done through collaboration with private landowners. Wild goats are destructive to restoration planting as they often rip the whole plant from the ground, and they can stunt regeneration by eating emerging native species of trees as they grow. They also contribute to large scale erosion, especially on cliff faces.

Soil turned over by Goats.
Soil turned over by feral pigs.

“The reality is that these wild goats will eat until there is nothing left. If you want regenerative forests and native plants thriving on your property, then you can’t have wild goats wandering around. Goats will eat through them all — it’s like lollies to them. Then once there is nothing left, they will start eating gorse.”

When the team are tasked with removing an animal, it is done through a professional hunter to make sure it is carried out in the safest and most humane way possible, Henk adds.

“Our team uses a data-led approach which enables us to strategically control feral animals throughout the city. This makes our efforts more cost effective and targeted. We can also pick times of the year to hunt that don’t cross over with things like lambing season. For rabbit control, we run operations from 10pm to 4am to minimise risk and disruption to park users.

“The absence of feral goats and feral pigs mean the city’s forests are healthy and can support greater numbers of native species. You can do your part to help us out by phoning our Contact Centre if you notice any sightings of pest animals.”