A TERRITORY scientist believes the sustainable management of feral buffalo in the NT has reached a "tipping point”.
Speaking at last week's Territory Natural Resource Management Conference, Charles Darwin University PHD student Stewart Pittard said about 6500 feral buffalos currently inhabited Kakadu National Park and they were threatening the landscape of the region.
Feral buffalo has long been an issue for the region and has contributed to altering the character of floodplains and vegetation across the Northern Territory.
Based on recent aerial surveys, it is estimated there are about 100,000-plus wild buffalo across the Top End of the Territory.
If allowed to continue to breed unchecked, Mr Pittard believes the animals will have a major impact on the natural environment.
"The impacts they have on Kakadu National Park can also be applied to other big wetland systems in the Top End, such as Arnhem Land and the more protected areas along the Adelaide River,” Mr Pittard said. "They degrade the wetland systems by compacting the soil, which then causes erosion and also changes the vegetative dynamics of the ecosystem.”
Mr Pittard believes that in some areas culling may be needed initially to allow the areas to recover.
"There are a number of different ways that the numbers can be controlled.
"The easy option is to shoot them and control them purely for conservation purposes. And in some areas that is a real concern because of the high numbers and it is something that authorities do need to take into account.
"The other option is to harvest the buffalo, and that is also a good option because they can help provide an economy in areas where there may not have been one before.”
To that end, research into the advantages and disadvantages of harvesting feral buffalo for live exports and controlling them for conservation is under way, with Kakadu National Park being used as a case study.
Mr Pittard said there was great potential for a joint approach in managing the feral buffalo population.
"It takes a bit of compromise from both sides but I believe these protected areas such as a Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land could create a unique balance in generating income for local communities, while also protecting the environment from unusually high numbers of buffalo.
"The advantages of harvesting are that it will generate an income for local communities and get people on the land working and at the same time reduce landscape degradation.”
Mr Pittard said there could also be added benefits to a joint approach to the problem between the community and government.
"If actively managed there are also advantages the buffalo can provide for weed control as there are a lot of big wetland weeds that build up and choke our water systems,” Mr Pittard said.
No matter which, or combination of, approaches is adopted, Mr Pittard is adamant about one thing.
"People need to be able to get together now and look at the options. The government probably needs to take the lead and move the debate on because it needs to happen soon to control the impact the animals are having.”
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