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Pros and cons of cluster fencing for threatened species proven

A University of Southern Queensland researcher has collected the first evidence on how predator fencing is helping and hindering Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies. 

“There are definitely benefits from the cluster fencing for this threatened species, the barriers unintentionally become reserves,” said USQ PhD research student Deane Smith who has spent the past two and a half years researching.

The fences are working, graziers report significant increases in lamb survival rates, but the fences don’t only limit the movement of predators, they impede the free movement of native animals and the impact of this is what USQ was researching.

Mr Smith used maps of cluster fencing and overlayed them with maps of threatened species. He found Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies had over four thousand square kilometres of habitats inside the fences in the Quilpie region in south-western Queensland.

The wallabies grow to about 10 kilograms, have a tiger-striped tail, are extremely shy and live in craggy, rocky cliffs so images were collected over two years inside and outside the fence. Half a million photos were analysed to try to work out if there were any differences in behaviour or patterns between the populations.

Working in the remote and rugged region of Quilpie, Deane Smith also trapped the rock wallabies living on both sides of the fences fitted them with a microchip, ear tag and took DNA samples.

He found populations separated by open country were related which indicates they did travel between habitats before the fences were erected. 

“There are definitely benefits from the cluster fencing for this threatened species, but there is also a strong case to develop adjustments to the fences that will allow free movement of threatened native species while continuing to keep predators out”
Mr Deane Smith

Cluster fencing and Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies

Over the last decade graziers in parts of western Queensland have been forming groups with neighbours to erect robust fences to keep wild dogs and feral pigs off their properties. Their purpose is to protect sheep and cattle from predation as well as make managing other pests like feral pigs easier.

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