News from the Field

Women saddle up to muster the feral herds

27 Aug. 2021

Who run the fields? Girls!

As part of AWC’s feral herbivore control program, women are saddling up to muster the feral cattle, protecting Australia’s ecosystems.

Three incredible women in the north east – Sally Gray, Eridani Mulder and Kerri Enever – are regularly tailing and mustering wild livestock as part of the largest feral herbivore control program in Australia. AWC is committed to developing equal gender opportunities, so we hope to see the numbers of women who saddle up grow.

Sally, Eridani, Kerri and AWC’s conservation land managers across the continent work to remove more than 8,000 feral herbivores, such as buffalo, camels, cattle, pigs and rabbits from AWC sanctuaries and partnership sites every year. The hooves and eating habits of uncontrolled feral species can have detrimental impacts on vegetation, soil and wetlands – thereby destroying shelter and food for native wildlife – so removing them is critical to AWC’s work in protecting native ecosystems.

 

Sally Gray is among three women in the north east regularly involved in AWC's feral herbivore control program. Graham Woods/AWC
Sally Gray is among three women in the north east regularly involved in AWC’s feral herbivore control program.

 

Meet Sally Gray, reining in the ferals since 2013

Sally Gray, the Assistant Sanctuary Manager at Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary in Far North Queensland, has spent a better part of the last eight years building her mustering knowledge and skills.

Cattle wrangling is a big job that has to be tackled every year. Sally and her partner, Sanctuary Manager, Graham Woods, an experienced cattle man, contract in a mustering team to help remove the feral cattleSally works with the team on horseback, monitors from a helicopter or documents the work with her brilliant photographic skills.  

 

Sally leading cattle during a recent mustering event at Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary. Graham Woods/AWC
Sally leading cattle during a recent mustering event at Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

Over the last seven years, Sally has assisted in and witnessed the removal of over 10,000 pigs and 9,000 cattle from the 165,000hectare sanctuary. The results of this program are clearly visible in the improvements to water quality across hundreds of wetlands and lagoons, as well as the restoration of native lily coverage and the ability to hold water throughout the wet season.  

“Any of my cow knowledge is picked up while hanging about at the yards and watching our mustering team work,” Sally said. “Graham is also continually coaching me in cattle handling. The feral cattle can be cantankerous and unpredictable, so I work to stay out of danger zones but still get in close to document all in photos and video.”

 

Mustering and processing feral herbivore isn’t easy work, it takes a dedicated and hardworking team. Sally Gray/AWC
Mustering and processing feral herbivore isn’t easy work, it takes a dedicated and hardworking team.

 

While men tend to outnumber women in the field, Sally says that there’s always at least one woman involved in the work and she’s usually the glue holding it all together.  

“My cattle experience is limited to Piccaninny Plains, but in everything we do here women can participate as much or at whatever level they would like,” she explained.

 

At Mornington-Marion Downs and Tableland Wildlife Sanctuaries small mammal populations have doubled in destocked areas. AWC
At Mornington-Marion Downs and Tableland Wildlife Sanctuaries small mammal populations have doubled in destocked areas.

 

Why is AWC’s feral herbivore program so important?

Feral herbivores are found across the Australian landscape. They consume and trample vegetation, remove ground cover, compact soil and devastate wetlands, removing the shelter available for native animals and reducing and competing for their food supply.

Destocking, when combined with fire and weed management, allows the land, wetlands, rivers and vegetation to rejuvenate and delivers positive outcomes for biodiversity. At Mornington-Marion Downs and Tableland Wildlife Sanctuaries small mammal populations have doubled in destocked areas.

As part of the largest feral herbivore control program in the country, AWC has created mainland Australia’s largest functionally feral herbivore-free ecosystems at Wongalara (100,000 hectares), Pungalina- Seven Emu (80,000 hectares) and Mornington-Marion DownsTableland (600,000 hectares) Wildlife Sanctuaries.

 

Learn more

AWC leads Australia’s largest feral herbivore control program. The program is led by AWC’s talented teams of land managers across all sanctuaries. This work is critical to restoring ecosystems and reintroductions of native wildlife.

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