Cameras, tracking collars, facial-recognition technology help identify feral pigs, wild dogs – ABC News

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Technologies — such as satellite-based tracking collars, real-time cameras, and facial-recognition software — are being used in the battle against wild dog and feral pig populations in Western Australia.

With an estimated national population of 23 million, feral pigs inhabit 45 per cent of the Australian mainland and cost the agricultural industry upwards of $100 million a year through damage to crops, fences and water points, killing baby lambs and competing for feed. 

A number of biosecurity groups in Western Australia’s agricultural region will share in $445,000 of federal funding to set up a network of cameras to provide information about pigs, dogs and other feral animals in paddocks.   

Midlands Biosecurity Group executive officer Chris O’Callaghan said the camera network would provide farmers with another set of eyes in their paddocks and could help prevent feral populations from spreading. 

A small camera mounted on a post with sandy soil and fence extending into the distance with trees on the left
Facial-recognition cameras need to be located in feral habitat that also has mobile phone connectivity.(

Supplied: Marieke Jansen

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“Recently, we had a report of feral pigs in an area where we hadn’t believed there to be pigs before.

“We were able to get a camera out, and just this morning I had an image come through of a pig there. 

“We can now go out with a control tool — if that’s a bait, a trap or a rifle — and control that animal.”

Numbers can explode

Mr O’Callaghan said the cameras sent images via the mobile phone network, so locations had to have connectivity, but also be a potential feral habitat.   

Images generated by the cameras are sorted using facial-recognition technology, and an alert is created when a feral animal is identified. 

“You can imagine having 100 cameras out in the bush for two years,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

“You are going to get a lot of images … the facial recognition can tell us, ‘OK, this is a wild dog, this is a feral pig, this is a fox’, and it can alert us to that [pest] rather than us having to manually sift through every photo as they come in. 

Grain spread across the ground, with the word 'pigs' written in grain.
Feed spread out in a trap attracts wild pigs.(

Supplied: Marieke Jansen

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Mr O’Callaghan said the wet winter being enjoyed by grain growers was conducive to feral pig populations increasing. 

Collars show pigs like to stay home

Aerial shot of a paddock with damaged crops.
Crops damaged by feral pigs.(

Supplied: Marieke Jansen

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Further north of Geraldton, a research project conducted by the Northern Biosecurity Group has seen a number of pigs fitted with tracking collars and their movements monitored. 

Group executive officer Marieke Jansen said pigs were a serious concern in the region, and learning more about pig movement may help improve control measures. 

“Currently we have 13 live, collared pigs running around our area,” she said. 

“There have been two pigs that have been travelling around 15 to 20 kilometres from where the trap site was, but the majority have moved within a 1km, 2km or 5km radius from the trap site. 

Ms Jansen said the group had also used cameras to gain an insight into pig movement in the region. 

“We tried to figure out individuals coming past but we gave up after the second day because there [were] so many pigs,” she said.

A night shot of pigs spotlit by a small circle of light
Image of feral pigs caught on remote-sensing camera.(

Supplied: Marieke Jansen

)

“I’d like to believe that we are making a difference or a dent in the number of pigs present in our region, but we still have very good numbers at trap sites at baiting days.

“Even our aerial-culling program that we did in March, we got more pigs than the year before.”

Ms Jansen said she was hoping thermal drone imagery recently taken would also provide more insights into the region’s pig population.

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