Early detection essential in swine fever fight

African swine fever control measures in northern Australia

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Northern Territory's Department of Primary Industries and Resources executive director of biosecurity and animal welfare Sarah Corcoran said the disease had the potential to decimate Australia's $5.3 billion pork industry.

Northern Territory's Department of Primary Industries and Resources executive director of biosecurity and animal welfare Sarah Corcoran said the disease had the potential to decimate Australia's $5.3 billion pork industry.

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Feral pig hunters in northern Australia are part of the arsenal being unleashed in the war against a potential incursion of African swine fever.

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FERAL pig hunters in northern Australia are part of the arsenal being unleashed in the war against a potential incursion of African swine fever.

Pig hunters, farmers and rangers in the Northern Territory are being asked to report any sick or dead feral pigs to authorities, with sample kits to be provided to enable them to test the beasts for traces of the disease.

The plan is part of a suite of measures being undertaken by the NT government in a bid to slow the spread of the disease should it reach Australia's shores.

It comes after African swine fever was detected in Timor-Leste, just 700km from mainland Australia last month.

Northern Territory's Department of Primary Industries and Resources director of biosecurity and animal welfare Sarah Corcoran said the disease had the potential to decimate Australia's $5.3 billion pork industry.

She said while there was no commercial pork industry in the Territory, there was a significant feral pig population that could spread the disease.

Ms Corcoran said the NT had a feral pig population of anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million, while Australia's population was up to 25 million.

"We are relying on passive surveillance, which is relying on people to report on if they see any sick pigs or dead pigs to us as a measure to get on top of things early.

"We've got quite a variety of surveillance networks there from our vets to property owners, pig hunters, even croc egg harvesters.

"We're supporting our surveillance networks by looking how we can develop a kit that... these people out in the bush...take a sample for us and send it back, and additional training for wildlife rangers."

Australia's pork industry body is calling for the federal government to coordinate a widespread feral pig cull, but Ms Corcoran said a preemptive cull would not necessarily slow the incursion.

"There has been discussion around preemptive cull of feral pigs. It would have to be a combination of things, hence why there's so many of them; they're extremely good survivors.

"1080 is one aspect of the control program but really the concern about going out to kill as many pigs as we can or poison them, it might not necessarily help."

She said feral pigs could potentially produce more offspring if they felt their population was under threat.

"What wild pigs do, is they have compensatory reproduction which means that if they sense there's a pressure on their population the sows actually start to produce more piglets. We've estimated we could probably kill a couple of hundred thousand, but that might not be the right thing to be doing."

The disease can be spread through live animals, pork products, inanimate objects and is highly contagious.

Ms Corcoran said 27 tonnes of pork product had been intercepted at Australian borders between November 2018 and August 2019. Samples tested show an increase of the disease to 48 per cent in September, up from 4 per cent late last year.

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