Wildlife hits the road in search of pickings

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Native and feral animals are flocking to our road verges in search of a free meal as dry weather grips the region after three seasons of plenty.

But with an increase in hungry animals near Canberra's roads, comes the inevitable increase in road kill.

Early morning travellers have told Fairfax there is a proliferation of wildlife along the Kings Highway, on the Barton Highway and elsewhere.

A fisherman heading towards the coast at about 4.15am on Saturday saw a group of suckling pigs between Bungendore and Braidwood. Foxes had been seen in the main street of Queanbeyan a short time earlier.

Phil McGrath, the Braidwood ranger with the South East Livestock Health and Pest Authority, said the apparent explosion in animal numbers was easily explained.

"It is all a part of the seasonal ebb and flow," he said. "Animals, both native and feral, react very quickly to the environment. If a food source becomes available they will quickly breed up to take advantage of it."


Towards the end of 2012, parts of south-eastern NSW and the ACT entered a dry period after three years of well-above average rainfall.

"Last year was a big fox year," Mr McGrath said. "This was a reaction to the better seasons of the last few years."

A jump in pig numbers could be explained in the same way.

"Pigs react to a good season as well, but not as much as foxes," he said. "Hunting helps keep the numbers down."

Mr McGrath said fox numbers had increased steadily for decades as the market for skins collapsed along with the fur trade.

"Back in the late 1970s you could get $40 a skin," he said. "That was a lot of money. Today you might get $20 – in 2013 money.

"That's probably the equivalent of $5 [in 1979 money]. You wouldn't skin a fox for that."

Mark McGaw, the senior ranger with the Tablelands Livestock Health and Pest Authority at Goulburn, said the animals were just more visible as they move closer to the road to forage.

"The road verge catches the run-off from the asphalt and stays greener [than the surrounding paddocks]," he said.

"Kangaroos, wallabies and rabbits that come after the green pick don't have the grazing competition [from stock] they do on the other side of the fence."

The downside was that the animals ran the risk of ending up as road kill on the side of the highway.

"That [the road kill] is the reason the foxes come," Mr McGaw said. "The pigs are omnivorous. If they can score some free meat they will, if not they go for the green pick."

Mr McGaw and Mr McGrath say farmers should take advantage of the increased mobility of rabbits, pigs and foxes to step up eradication measures.

"Hit them while they are doing it tough," Mr McGaw said.

The Canberra Times contributor and territory identity, Tim The Yowie Man, said the dry conditions placed additional pressure on wildlife, with the result animals could move further into the suburbs.

"We are the bush capital so we should be flexible and adapt our living to the native wildlife around in our suburbs," he said.

"I regularly see roos bounding through my street in suburban Belconnen and even found one in the garden last week.

"We should embrace this native wildlife in our suburbs and take extra care on the roads.

"Many people in other cities would love to have bush icons bounding through their streets. If a roo comes into your garden try not to scare it or corner it; in most cases it should be able to jump the fence."