Feral Goats

Goats first arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788 and soon became feral as domestic goats escaped, were abandoned or were deliberately released. They now occur across 28% of Australia with at least 2.6M feral goats in Australia. You can see herds of feral goats in most pastoral areas of WA.

The largest populations are found in the Shires of Shark Bay, Carnarvon, Murchison, Yalgoo and Northampton. Mobs are also found in other districts including the Upper Gascoyne, Meekatharra and Mt Magnet as well as the Pilbara and Ashburton regions and the Eastern Goldfields. Isolated populations of feral goats also occur in the higher rainfall areas of the south-west of the State where patches of scrub and forest provide protection from human control and make management difficult.[1]

As early as 1928, feral goats were declared vermin in the Upper Gascoyne district, and at Marble Bar and Port Hedland in 1928 and Mullewa and Meekatharra in 1954. Feral goats are declared pests under section 22(2) of the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 for the whole of Western Australia (WA).[2]

Where feral goat numbers become unmanageable their appetite and grazing habits cause serious damage. They destroy vegetation and disturb the balance of plant species as they completely strip the leaves and bark from shrubs. Also, valuable pasture species, including saltbush and soft spinifex often fail to recover from such heavy grazing and unfortunately, these plants are then replaced by annuals and less valuable perennial species. Overgrazing can lead to massive soil erosion permanently reducing the carrying capacity of the rangeland, and the disturbance by the sharp hooves of feral goats exposes the soil to erosion by wind and rain.

Feral goats compete with native animals and domestic stock for shelter, water and food. For instance, they browse on mulga, which provides a drought reserve for sheep during summer. Also, with susceptibility to several exotic livestock diseases including foot and mouth disease, rabies and rinderpest, feral goats can act as a reservoir of infection if the diseases reached Australia.

According to the latest report on soil and land conservation, the distribution of feral goats has retreated in the rangelands.[3] Whilst this is good news, remnant populations that do persist are causing serious damage. Anecdotal evidence suggests that places like Woomeral have such severe soil depletion that for many seasons the roads are swallowed up by soil leaving the area in huge volumes. This anecdotal evidence is backed up by Satellite images obtained from the Department of Lands of places like Red Bluff, near Carnarvon 2004-2016, which shows erosion moving east. You can find these images below.

During the next term of government I intend to organise a petition that requests the Legislative Council to support the establishment of an inquiry into causes of environmental degradation of the Ningaloo Coast, with particular reference to damage caused by feral and introduced species.

[2] Capra hircus (feral) Common name(s): Feral goat. Legal status: Declared Pest - s22(2) Declared pests must satisfy any applicable import requirements when imported, and may be subject to an import permit if they are potential carriers of high-risk organisms. They may also be subject to control and keeping requirements once within Western Australia. Presence in WA: Present. C3 - Management / Restricted: Organisms that should have some form of management applied that will alleviate the harmful impact of the organism, reduce the numbers or distribution of the organism or prevent or contain the spread of the organism. Applicable area(s): Whole of state. 

[3] Department of Agriculture and Food, Report to the Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation on the trend of the Western Australian pastoral resource base October 2015. 


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