Pigs wreak dev­as­ta­tion ‘worse than cy­clone Yasi’

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - Shane Ni­chols

HOR­TI­CUL­TUR­AL­IST Pe­ter Sar­gent, who founded and runs the Whyan­beel Ar­bore­tum, has cre­ated a Gar­den of Eden in his 40 hectares that pro­duces he­li­co­nias, gin­gers plants and bromeli­ads for the mar­kets.

His renowned prop­erty sup­plies a sub­stan­tial part of the lo­cal mar­ket.

But these days when he walks his hectares of a morn­ing it is not a par­adise.

Feral pigs are run­ning ram­pant, threat­en­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of his busi­ness which has so far sur­vived for decades.

His prop­erty backs on the Di­vid­ing Range and the World Her­itage Area.

There’s noth­ing to stop bands of feral pigs roam­ing his prop­erty, and they do, lately much worse than ever be­fore.

In one night – in fact, in a just a few hours – they can stomp and root up lengthy rows of his plants.

Rows 100 me­tres long are flat­tened and de­stroyed. Where plants reach­ing 5 me­tres high were stand­ing, they are flat­tened as if a steam roller has gone through.

“It’s worse than cy­clone Yasi,” Mr Sar­gent says.

In other places it looks like a space­ship has landed. The pigs’ rav­ages leave brown patches where their favourite va­ri­eties of plant once thrived. Not a leaf re­mains. They can do this in an hour or two.

Mr Sar­gent walks his land won­der­ing how many more nights of dam­age his busi­ness can stand. He needs some­thing and quickly.

There are sev­eral pig traps on the prop­erty but they are not do­ing enough.

“The shire coun­cil for at least 20 years have been do­ing trap­ping here but it’s at least 120 years that peo­ple have tried to en­tice pigs into traps,” he says. “So we need an­other an­gle of at­tack.

“The pigs are so wise to trap­ping. They have ed­u­cated their gen­er­a­tions for 10 years not to go near a trap.

“So what we need is a sys­tem where the coun­cil pays a cer­tain amount of money like they did in the ’30s and ’40s for bring­ing in sets of ears or tails and they get paid a bounty over the counter.

“Be­cause oth­er­wise what’s hap­pen­ing in all these ar­eas is that the pop­u­la­tions are in­creas­ing 10-fold ev­ery year.

“It’s get­ting so out of con­trol now that most peo­ple in most of the ar­eas that back on the World Her­itage Area have prob­lems each win­ter.”

He says that the ad­min­is­tra­tors of the World Her­itage Area need to do more to abate the pig prob­lem.

Although var­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions and bu­reau­cra­cies are well funded, not a lot is be­ing done on the ground.

And while ex­perts toss around huge sums of money as be­ing nec­es­sary to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity in the run off from the land into the reef la­goon, mainly see­ing farm­ing as a big con­trib­u­tor to poor wa­ter qual­ity, in fact it is pigs do­ing the dam­age to the wa­ter­ways which ends up on the reef.

“Around here it is gen­er­ally not the cane farms,” he says.

‘There’s no ground be­ing dug up and there’s no drainage from cane farms – it’s from the pigs. The pigs are in the creeks, pigs are dig­ging up the ground ev­ery time it rains.

“All of these mi­nor creeks that run into the big­ger creeks feed­ing out into the reef, they’re all re­ally pig in­fested,” Mr Sar­gent says.

Pic­tures: SHANE NI­CHOLS

Pe­ter Sar­gent in one of his dev­as­tated plant rows, which runs 100 me­tres long

One of the traps on the Whyan­beel farm. Its of­fer­ing of pig favourites is left un­touched by the feral in­trud­ers, who long ago learned to avoid the traps de­spite the temp­ta­tions.

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