A recently published report into the abundance and population genetics of hog deer in Victoria is the first major examination of the state of the wild hog deer population in Victoria in several decades.
The Australian Deer Association actively lobbied the Victorian Government to fund this research and our members were actively involved in the study design and in the painstaking work of processing and classifying the camera images – special thanks go there to Trevor Dodd, Laurie Rees, Danny Hudson and Tim Nash.
This report provides baseline data, which we hope will be built on over time to provide a robust picture of population dynamics and allow management decisions to be grounded in reliable evidence.
What the report does not do is provide an accurate census of the hog deer population, the population figures are based on a relatively small number of survey points and limited to public land. There are also likely some skewed results based on high visitation of deer at particular camera sites - all of this can be fleshed out with more research and the collection of more data.
The results paint a picture of a discrete and geographically constrained population of deer with low genetic variability, leaving Australia’s wild hog deer vulnerable to overharvesting, disease and habitat loss. What the report did not examine was hog deer on private property – whilst the genetic picture is almost certain to be the same, we do know that there are significant tracts of private land with healthy populations of wild hog deer – particularly in places where there is active game management taking place.
These findings should give comfort for land management agencies which are concerned that hog deer could be an emerging invasive species; the evidence simply does not validate their concerns. Wild deer management is complex, nuanced and dynamic; reports like these help us to highlight that point and help land managers to move beyond broad generalisations about ‘deer’ and to base management decisions on an understanding of the specific quirks of different species and different habitats.
To ensure sound management of wild hog deer into the future, both for their value as a game species and to mitigate against environmental and agricultural impacts, the Australian Deer Association will be advocating for a number of actions as a result of the learnings from this report.
- A revision of the Victorian Hog Deer Management Strategy 2008. The original document contained a number of initiatives which were never properly funded or delivered.
- A commitment to repeat population and distribution surveys every five years.
- A commitment to empower habitat management to increase carrying capacity and productivity. Include browsing animal management, habitat management and water management.
- A commitment to conduct more research on reproductive and survival rates of wild hog deer in order to further understand population dynamics and ensure a sustainable and appropriate harvest.
What the research also highlights is the increasing incidence of wild sambar deer in what has become known as traditional hog deer country. Sambar were detected at sixteen camera locations over ten sites. There are a number of factors in this, including natural distribution and habitat change. The impact of sambar on hog deer populations is not quantified and unarguably needs further examination.