Just how do you go about eradicating 1200 feral goats from a 4400-square-kilometre island? With great difficulty.
Unless you have someone with the passion and tenacity of feral animal officers such as Brenton Florance, Nick Markopoulos and the feral animal project team at Natural Resources Kangaroo Island (NRKI) formerly led by Dr Pip Masters
The total eradication of feral goats on Kangaroo Island was celebrated at an official function on June 12.
KI Commissioner Wendy Campana is about to release her report on the feral pig population.
The Feral Cat Eradication Program has received funding from the Threatened Species Recovery Fund to commence phase two and is working with landholders on the Dudley Peninsula to get this underway.
Feral deer meanwhile are now also thought to be eradicated from KI thanks to the dedication of feral animal officers Brenton Florance and Nick Markoupolos, who worked together as a team on both the deer and goat eradication projects.
But more time is needed for monitoring before an official declaration can be made.
Now that the goat eradication is complete, Mr Markopoulos and his family, wife Tamara who is a school teacher at KICE and their children Katie, 9, and Jessie, 5, have made the decision to move off the Island to Tumut, NSW.
He has accepted a position with the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Game Council where he will be overseeing compliance of hunters.
“I am keen to come back if and when another program or position becomes available,” Mr Markopoulos said.
Back to the story of the goat eradication and it’s been a long 12-year-process that Mr Markopoulos has been involved in since the beginning.
Goats arrived on Kangaroo Island with the very first early settlers 200 years ago and have been running wild ever since.
The Island was divided into seven management units and the goats were systematically removed from each unit.
It started with a relatively small herd in the Parndana area that was monitored and tracked using a “Judas goat” fitted with a radio tracking collar.
“The Judas system exploits the gregarious nature of the goats that don’t like to be alone,” Mr Markopoulos said. “The radio tracker allowed us to subsequently find and eventually eliminate all the goats in the mob.”
Once the two feral animal protection officers had eliminated the Parndana mob, they then moved into other goat populations within Flinders Chase National Park at locations including Cape du Couedic.
Individual mobs were then systematically eliminated around the west coast until the last few remaining goats were limited to the area around Western River.
The goat eradication program was thrown a lifeline when the then Federal Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews secured additional funding.
“Toward the end of 2014/2015 the program really struggled and we could just not get a visual on the goats out at Western River,” Mr Markopoulos said.
“So we went heavy on the motion sensor cameras and captured all the remaining goats on camera and created a hit list identifying each individual goat based on their unique markings.”
They then knew exactly what goats remained and went out about eradicating every last animal, still using the system of a Judas goat.
The last free-ranging feral goat, a nanny goat, was shot on February 17, 2016 in the Western River Wilderness Protection Area.
“After months of failed attempts, I vividly remember shooting the very last nanny goat and that was after three weeks of intensively tracking her,” he said. “And at the same time Brenton then removed her kid.”
The last remaining Judas goat was allowed to roam free for another 12 months, just to make sure there were no other goats remaining.
The camera monitoring also continued for two years and there were also regular patrols on foot and also aerial surveys, looking for any evidence before the official declaration was made.
“We knew the job had been done, but we had to prove it, so we continued with the monitoring” he said.
Mr Markopoulos paid tribute to the rest of the feral animal team at NRKI, as well as the volunteer hunters and Friends of Parks.
“We also had very good relationships with landowners, who were essential for the success of the project,” he said.
“We had a good trusting relationship and both Brenton and I had the respect of the community, which made a big difference.”
And he was already seeing the impact the removal of the goats and their eventual eradication was having.
“Since the removal of the goats, I’ve been really impressed with the transformation of the coast as the vegetation has started coming back,” he said.
Goat and deer facts (NRKI):
Kangaroo Island is the largest island in the world to have successfully eradicated feral goats and the only island to have eradicated feral deer.
It is Australia’s third largest island (4400 km2) and is nationally important for biodiversity conservation, primary production and tourism. Eradicating these feral animals from Kangaroo Island will have long term benefits for primary production and biodiversity, including threatened species.
Early settlers brought goats to Kangaroo Island nearly 200 years ago. Feral goat populations soon established around the West coast of the island. Over time they caused significant damage to native vegetation, spread weeds and caused soil erosion, particularly on sand dunes and around high impact areas such as caves and watering points.
Fallow deer became feral on Kangaroo Island in the 1990s when fencing around a deer farm deteriorated and the deer escaped.
Fallow deer carry diseases that threaten the Island’s cattle breeding industry, compete with stock for pasture, and trample crops and native vegetation.
In 2005 the Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board determined that eradication of feral goats and feral deer was feasible. With the help of dedicated control officers, the support of the community and financial investment from the Australian Government and Government of South Australia, the Board began the long journey to achieve this.
The results of these eradications are already profound. Drooping sheoak, main food of the endangered South Australian glossy black-cockatoo has regenerated prolifically.
Native succulents and ground covers have grown where they were previously unknown, creating additional habitat for the rare rock parrot and eastern large bronze azure butterfly, which had not been seen on KI for over 80 years.
With vigorous plant growth, soil erosion has decreased to the point where local fishermen report high rainfall events are no longer washing large amounts of sediment into the surrounding ocean.
As long as domestic goats and deer reside on Kangaroo Island, there will be a risk of a feral population re-establishing in the wild.
To counter this possibility, the Government of South Australia revised the legislation so keeping domestic goats and deer requires a permit from the Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board. As a result of this project no domestic deer remain on KI.
To obtain a permit control staff inspect goat properties every two years, or when they change ownership.
Each property is given a risk rating and permits are only issued for landholders who meet all requirements.
Again community support is vital and control staff work closely with landholders to ensure compliance and that any escapees are immediately reported.