Impacts on Vegetation and Wildlife
Most native animals in the Flinders depend on grasses, trees and shrubs for food. So do sheep and cattle. As the numbers of introduced grazing animals increased, native species found it harder to compete for food and water. By the end of the nineteenth century, the effects of over stocking, ploughing the soil for crops combined with recurrent drought had changed the country forever.
– Six species were extinct: the Tammar Wallaby; Rat kangaroo (or bettong); hairy-nosed wombat; Marsupial cat and the Stick-nest rat.
– Goats, rabbits, house mice and cats had all been all introduced. Rabbits and goats eat any plant they can reach.
– Otto Bartholmaeus of Arkaba was one of the first in the ranges to tackle the dingo problem. He built 2 metre high dingo proof fences around one paddock after another. His six children shepherded sheep and laid strychnine baits
paddock by paddock. 100 dingoes died in one paddock alone.
– Gum trees were felled and used for fence posts, sleepers for railway lines and as fuel for steam trains and mining engines. Native pine was used to build homes.
- Rabbits were well into the Flinders by the 1870s. It is likely that they spread north from places like Anlaby Station near Kapunda, where they had been introduced for sport.
- Rabbits are a menace in farming and grazing country. They eat plants right down to the ground, and many species die as a result.
- Within a few years of rabbits appearing on Callabonna ‘the sandhills began to drift; wells filled with sand; dingoes thrived and increased prolifically on a diet of rabbits’. The Ragless brothers, experienced pastoralists, were forced to abandon in 1896.
- Rabbits were well into the Flinders by the 1870s. In good years they bred prolifically, and provided ample food for dingoes that in turn bred prolifically. During droughts, rabbits died and the dingoes that had relied on them moved into the ranges looking for food. Wilpena Pound was badly infested with dingoes, and so was Arkaba station.
Controlling Rabbit numbers
- The old saying goes ‘Three rabbits, three years, three million’ (ABC News 2012).
- Drought was the only thing that controlled their numbers in the early years, along with dingoes.
- Later on, different methods were tried to kill them in large numbers.
o Poisoning with strychnine or phosphorus-laced baits
o One method that worked well when water was scarce was to fence off an area around a water hole. The only entry was through a funnel shaped tube of wire netting –and once the rabbits were in, they couldn’t get out.
Up to 3,000 rabbits were caught in one night in this sort of trap in the 1930s (Quorn 1978:51).
o Rabbit-proof fencing around properties (wire netting)
o Professional rabbit trappers used up to 300 traps a day, and this helped keep the numbers down slightly. Rabbits were skinned, frozen and sent to market as a cheaper source of meat.
o In the 1950s, the Myxomatosis virus was introduced into the rabbit and killed millions. Eventually they developed resistance to it, and calicivirus was released to help control rabbit numbers.
o In February 2012, ABC News reported that rabbits are becoming resistant to calicivirus, and that landowners are resorting to shooting them and ripping their warrens.
Scientists predicted it would take 4-5 years to develop a new strain.
The first fox was killed in the Hawker area in 1907. Mr Graham ‘very kindly cut off its tail and brought it in for examination by the members’ of the Cradock Branch of the Agricultural bureau (Mincham 1980:117-8). Foxes soon spread throughout the Flinders.
Mincham, Hans 1980. Hawker … Hub of the Flinders. Hawker Centenary Committee. Adelaide.
Mincham, Hans 1983. The Story of the Flinders Ranges. (3rd ed). Adelaide, Rigby.