Feature Article - Feral goats in Tasmania
Feature article published in the Tasmanian Year Book, 1998 (cat. no. 1301.6)
Goats have been a familiar, but minor, element of the agricultural landscape in Tasmania for over 150 years. A study of feral goats in Tasmania by the Parks and Wildlife Service (Atkinson et al. 1995) has shown that feral goats are more widespread and abundant than previously realised. Goats can outcompete other browsing livestock for food and shelter, and can act as vectors for diseases. They are also known to have damaged newly-established forestry plantations. Selective browsing and grazing can change the composition of plant communities dramatically. They eat plants down to ground level, and often uproot them. They can also prevent regeneration of canopy trees by eating the seedlings. Soil erosion is often caused, or exacerbated, by the feeding habits of feral goats and by trampling, particularly at locations where vegetation is sensitive to disturbance.
There have been 136 feral goat herds recorded from a wide range of habitats from sea level to the Central Plateau, in all areas except the cold, wet south-western region. Most herds will range across multiple land tenures, however 46% of herds occurred primarily on private land, including private forests, 23% were mainly in State forests, 20% spent most of their time on reserved land (World Heritage Area, national parks and other reserves) and 11% on unallocated Crown land.
A Parks and Wildlife Service control program for feral goats commenced in 1992. Whilst mustering has been employed, control has mainly been by free shooting. In the three years to mid-1995, feral goat herds had been reduced by 40%. While the greatest reduction in goat numbers has been in the north, nearly 50% of herds remain in the northern and north-eastern areas. Approximately 80 herds, consisting of around 1500 individuals are estimated to remain.