Introduced Animals in Australia Feral, Invasive, Benign & Beneficial Animals Introduced into Australia

Many animals were brought to Australia by humans.
Some, such as the sheep and cattle, have been vital to the Australian economy.
Others have caused serious problems to the Australian environment, native animals and plants.
Believe it or not the most destructive animal ever introduced into Australia are humans.

Animals Introduced to Australia by Humans

Many animals were brought to Australia by humans.. The earliest known introduced species is the Dingo, brought here by the Aborigines possibly as early as 40,000 years ago. More recently European settlers introduced large numbers of animals and plants both intentionally (cattle) and unintentionally (mice).

Because of the large number of animals introduced into Australia and the different impacts they have on the environment they have been broadly classified below. Sometimes an animal can be in more than one group. For example the rabbit is both feral and a pest.

Beneficial - These species have been useful to humans or the environment.
Benign - These creatures have had no noticeable adverse impact on the Australian ecosystem.
Invasive - species have a tendency to spread their range into new areas
Feral - Domestic animals brought to Australia that have gone wild and significantly impact the ecosystem.
Pests - These animals have a direct negative effect on the Australian ecosystem and are difficult to control.

Feral Camels in Australia

Why Camels were Brought to Australia

In the early 1800s no European man had ventured into the vast interior of the Australian continent. Many explorers had tried but almost all of their attempts had ended in failure. One of the main reasons for their failure was the lack of a suitable pack animal capable of handling the dry, rough often sandy terrain of the Australian Outback. In 1822 a Danish-French geographer named Malthe Conrad Bruun first suggest that the camel may be the solution to this problem.

The first camel was purchased from the Spanish on the Canary Islands and arrived in Australia in 1840 and was part of an expedition into the interior lead by John Horrocks. Unfortunately this animal was instrumental in Hancocks's accidental death and was shot.

In 1860, 24 camels and 3 camel-drivers (cameleers) were imported from India to join the Burke and Wills expedition into the interior of Australia. The expedition was a disaster, with both Burke and Wills losing their lives, but the camels proved their usefulness. Some camels in this expiation escaped and may have formed the first contingent of the feral camel population of Australia.

Having proven their usefulness huge numbers of camel were imported into Australia. In the period 1870 to 1900 alone, more than 15,000 camels and 3,000 cameleers arrived in Australia.

These animals and their drivers provided a vital service in the exploration of the interior of Australia, in the setting up of the first telegraph line through the desert from Adelaide to Darwin and in the construction of the railroad between Port Augusta and Alice Springs. This railroad is known today as the Ghan, in honour of the cameleers who lead the camel teams in its construction.

Why Australian Camels Became Feral

With the advent of the motor vehicles and railroads these animals were no longer needed and by the 1930s most were set free. Discarded by their owners these animals had to fend for themselves in the wilderness. The non-native camel was ideally suited for the dry Australian deserts. It could handle the heat, had no predators and was also capable of eating almost all the vegetation found there. Its numbers rapidly increased.

Feral Camel Impacts on the Australian Environment

In 1966 it was estimated that there were 20,000 wild camels. By 2008 this number was estimated to be 500,000. Their numbers have increased so much that they are now considered a serious threat to native habitat. An extensive culling was undertaken between 2008 and 2013. The present population is now estimated at about 350,000 animals Feral camels impact the Australian environment by:

• Consuming vegetation up to heights of 4 meters and striping these plants of their leaves. Many native animals are unable to reach the remaining leaves of these plants.
• Moving in huge herds of up to 1000 animals, severely depleting and stressing local vegetation and depriving other native animals of their food sources.
• Exhausting and polluting waterholes and can cause native animals to die of thirst. (Each camel can consume 200 litres of water in less than 3 minutes).
• Damaging pastoral properties by destroying windmills, fences, etc. and eating vegetation meant for livestock.
• Sometimes causing serious traffic hazards on roads, rail lines and even airplane runways.



Wild camels are only found in Australia. Some have actually been exported back to Arabia (the Middle East).
Camel racing is popular in Alice Springs.

Australia's Wild Dog

What is a Dingo

The dingo is an Australian wild dog. It is the largest carnivore in Australia. It is, however, not a native Australian animal. It was brought to Australia by humans. While it is commonly referred to as a wild dog, it is actually believed to be semi-domesticated dog from East or South Asia, a subspecies of the Grey-wolf.

How the Dingo Got to Australia

How the Dingo arrived in Australia is not certain. Fossil and other evidence indicates that it first arrived in Australia between 4,600 and 5,400 years ago. The most widely accepted theory is that their introduction may have been by chance, brought to Australia by ancient seafarers. It is also suggested that, given the lack of much genetic variation amongst the dingo population today, the entire population may have sprung up from a single pregnant animal brought on an ancient vessel. Its close resemblance to the Asian wolf and native dogs found in many parts of Asia suggest that its origin was in Asia, possibly Thailand.

Description of the Dingo

While it has been domesticated from time to time by the Australian aborigines the dingo is essentially a wild dog. It is about 60cm tall and weighing up to 25kg. It has a stronger skull with bigger teeth than domesticated dogs. The colour of its fur is determined by its environment. Desert dingos have a red/yellow coat. Those in forests have dark fur with tan markings. Those living in the alpine regions are almost white. The dingo usually lives by itself or in a small family group. It eats almost anything it can find from Kangaroos and Wallabies to rats, mice, frogs, lizards and even fruit. The dingo does not bark, it yelps and howls like a wolf, especially at night, to communicate with other dingoes and scare off intruders. The dingo inhabits all parts of Australia, provided there is a supply of drinking water. Dingoes don't like water. Most dingoes will only wade water but will not swim. The dingo by nature is an opportunistic hunter, it will prey on any animal, preferably warm-blooded, that it can successfully bring down. This leads it into conflict with humans.

The Dingo's Impact on the Environment & Humans

The dingo is not a serious threat to the Australian habitat. Its unpopularity steams primarily for the following reasons:

• Dingos attack pastoral animals such as sheep and young cattle. This makes them unpopular with farmers and pastoralist. (Contrary to popular folklore, domestic animals such as sheep account for only 1-7% of a dingo's diet).
• In areas populated by humans, dingos have been known to eat domestic pets such as cats and dogs.
• On rare occasion they have been reported to have attacked young children; seeing them too as a food source.
• They have attacked people who have come too close to them, feed them are foolishly tried to pet them.
• Since they will eat any animal indiscriminately it have also been blamed for the reduction in the population of some endangered animals such as the nailtail wallabies, koalas and tree kangaroos.

Dingos Aren't that Bad

To be fair to the dingo, some scientists have suggested that, it fills an important ecological niche. Being the only large carnivore left on mainland Australia it helps in keep the native kangaroo and wallaby populations in balance. This function was once fulfilled by the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) and Tasmanian devil, both of which became extinct on the mainland. Ironically their extinction may have been due to competition from the dingo. More importantly, it also eats other introduced feral animals such as the destructive rabbit, goat and wild pig.

The Dingo - An Endangered Species

Because of interbreeding with domestic dogs there is a high probability that the "pure" dingo breed may become extinct as a result of genetic pollution.



The longest fence in the world is a dingo fence that stretches from Darling Downs in Queensland to Nundroo in South Australia; a distance of 5,614 kilometres (3,488 mi). It is also one of the longest man-made structures in the world. It was built between 1880 and 1885 to protect pastoral animals such and sheep and cattle from dingo attacks. The fence is believed to have been successful because there are hardly any dingos to the south of this fence where most of most productive grazing land is.

Feral Rabbit in Australia

First Rabbits in Australia

Five rabbits were brought to Australia by European colonists who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. There are occasional references to rabbits in Tasmania and New South Wales by the early 1800s. Initially they were bred in confined enclosures for food and appear to have had no noticeable impact on the local environment.

Thomas Austin of Barwon Park of Winchelsea in Victoria was a pioneer landowner in the area. Like many other early settlers he brought numerous animals from his native country to Australia. Austin was also a member of the local Acclimatisation Society which encouraged the introduction of foreign animals and plants into Australia. 

In 1859 Austin, who had been an avid hunter back in his homeland of England, imported seventy-two partridges, some sparrows, twelve grey rabbits, five hares and some domestic rabbits so that he could continue his hunting hobby in Australia.

 He built well-fenced enclosures on his vast property at Winchelsea to keep the rabbits in and even hired a game keeper to look after his animals.  Much to his surprise and praise from his neighbours his rabbits multiplied exponentially. In just six years his rabbit herd had increased from a dozen or so animals to over 20,000.

How Rabbits in Australia became Feral?

Given the massive increase in the rabbit population at Barwon Park it was only a matter of time before some of them escaped into the wild. There a number of theories as to how this may have happened. The first is that the Barwon River which flowed next to the Austin's property, flooded and the rabbit enclosures fences were washed away and the rabbits escaped. Another is that local people cut holes in the rabbit fences to illegally catch the rabbits which were on the property. The rabbits may have escaped through these opening or may even have been encouraged to escape by the local people so they could catch them more easily elsewhere. The final theory is that when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Barwon Park on the 5th of December 1867 as the guest of the wealthy Mr Austin, a hole was cut in the fence and rabbits chased out of the hole so that there would be an unbelievable spectacle of rabbits everywhere when the Duke went rabbit shooting. The local newspapers report that the Duke stayed as a guest of the Austin's at Barwon Park and went hunting that afternoon. Over 1,000 rabbits were shot of which the Duke is credited with shooting 416. He went hunting again the following morning for three hours and shot another 86. This is probably the most likely explanation of the rabbit plague that followed because a large number of rabbits were released allowing them to establish themselves in Australia. (The newspaper engraving shows the rabbit fence on the right).

How did Rabbits in Australia become Invasive?

Feral Rabbit Distritution Throughout Australia

The rabbits that escaped that day multiplied rapidly in Australian wilderness which was similar to their original places of origin in Spain and Portugal (The ancient Romans took them all over Europe from there).

Within just twenty years they had reached Queensland over 1,500 kilometres away. By 1910 they had spread to their present range, which is most of Australia except the wet tropics.

It is estimated that there are about 300 million rabbits in Australia. (See what they mean when they say "breed like rabbits").

Why Are Rabbits a Pest in Australia?

Damage caused by rabbits around
Phillip Island, Victoria.

Dramatic revival of the same environment
after rabbits were eradicated.

Rabbits have been declared the number one pest in Australia because to the serious damage they are doing to the Australian ecosystem.

Their major impacts are:
• Rabbits overgraze the land to a point that native plants die leading to wide-scale extinction of native plants.
• The loss of native plants contribute to the decline and in some case the extinction of native animals such as the bilby and the bandicoot.
• Loss of vegetation also results in soil erosion. The exposed soil is easily carried away by wind and rain leaving it degraded and unsuitable for new plant growth.
Soil washed away by rain typically ends up deposited in creeks, streams and rivers disrupting the aquatic ecosystem of these waterways.
• Rabbits also eat pastures put down by farmers for their sheep and cattle flocks.
• During droughts, when foods is scarce, rabbits dig up and eat the roots of plants thereby killing them.
• Rabbits also threaten some of native burrowing animals, such as the bilby and the burrowing bettong, by evicting them and moving into their burrows.

Rabbit Control in Australia?

From as early as 1887, just twenty years after the rabbit was first released at Barwon Park, rabbit numbers had grown to plague proportions in Victoria and New South Wales. Western Australians was so alarmed that they built a rabbit-proof fence 1,800 kilometres long to protect their state from a rabbit invasion (this didn't really work because rabbits jumped over the fence, borrowed under it or humans left gates open letting them in). Other early methods of controlling the rabbit populations was shooting, poisoning and digging up burrows.

By 1950 the rabbit population in Australia was estimated to be over 600 million. There were 80 rabbits for every single person living in Australia at the time. In this year the myxoma virus was deliberately released into the wild rabbit population resulting in a rapid decline to about 100 million. Initially mosquitoes were the key transmitters of the disease but they were unsuitable for the drier parts of Australia so the European and Spanish fleas were brought to Australia to spread the virus more widely. Some rabbits were resistant to the virus and numbers again started to increase. By 1991 there were an estimated 300 million rabbits in Australia. In 1995 Australian scientists were testing the calicivirus which accidentally escaped and fortunately has been doing its job killing only rabbits

Cane Toad

Map of Cane Toad Invasion

Why was the Cane Toad Brought to Australia?

The Cane Toad was brought to Australia in 1935 to protect the sugar cane fields of Queensland from the cane beetle But guess what? It didn't work!

Scientists warned the farmers not to bring the cane toad to Australia but the farmers didn't listen and brought them in anyway.

Cane Toads are Adapting the the Australian Environment

Australian scientists have recently discovered that the once strictly nocturnal cane toads have started to change their behaviour as they move further into semi-arid parts of the Australian Outback.

Historically cane toads lived in reasonably moist environments and came out to hunt at night, but as they move further into the interior of Australia they have been confronted with dry and hot climate of these areas. Cane toads cannot survive for more than a few days without water, so they have tackled this environmental hurdle by congregating around man-made dams and watering holes constructed by graziers to water their cattle and sheep flocks. By cooling down and rehydrating themselves against the extreme daytime they have found a way to survive the extreme environment.

Why is the Cane Toad became a Pest?

The cane toad has no natural enemies in Australia and lives up to 20 years. A female cane toad can lay up to 40,000 eggs (while the native frogs lay only about 1,000). Most native tadpoles can't live in the same water as the poisonous Cane Toad tadpoles.

The cane toad is highly poisonous. It carries toxin in two large bulging glands on its shoulders (see them in the picture). Native animals that normally feed on native frogs try t o eat the cane toad and die. The poison is so strong that even grasping the toad in their mouths is enough to kill them.

Because they are multiplying so rapidly and because they will eat almost anything that will fit in their mouths they are devastating the native ground dwelling micro-fauna (small ground creatures).

What Animal can Kill a Cane Toad?

There are some Australian creatures that can successfully counter the cane toad. Spiders such as the common wolf spider and Australian tarantula can kills and eat cane toads. Meat ants and water beetles also eat millions of young cane toads and tadpoles each year. One of the most interesting killers of cane toads is the Australian crow. This bird has figured out that by flipping the cane toad on its back it can avoid the toad's poison glands. The crow then pecks on the toad's soft underbelly and eats its insides.

European Red Fox Pest - Brought for Recreational Sport of Fox Hunting

Why was the Fox Brought to Australia?

European Red Foxes were first introduced to Victoria Australia in about 1855 for use in the sport known as Fox Hunting. Within a 100 years it had spread across most of the country. Today there are believed to be over 17 million foxes throughout Australia.

Why the Fox is a Pest in Australia

The fox causes significant economic losses to farmers by preying on poultry, young lambs and goats. They are also believed to be one of the the main reasons of the decline and extinction of many smaller rodents, marsupials and birds. Foxes are considered a threat to 14 species of birds, 48 types of mammals, 12 different reptiles and 2 amphibians.



The only area in Australia where the fox has not thrived is Tasmania. It seems the Tasmanian Devil has outfoxed the fox there by out-competing it. This is one of the rare examples where a local species has succeeded against an introduced one.

Myna Bird Invasive/Past - Brought to Australia for Pest Control

Description of Myna Bird

The Myna also referred to as the Common Indian Myna is a medium-sized dark brown bird with distinctive yellow eye-patches, beak, legs and feet. It is native to Asia where it lives primarily in open woodlands. It is about 23 centimetres (9.1 in) in length and weighs about 120gms. Males and females are similar but the female is slightly larger than the male. The myna bird walks, rather than hops unlike most small birds.

The Myna is omnivorous. It eats small inserts, lizards, reptiles, mammals, worms, seeds grains and fruit. It has also adopted to eating food scraps thrown away by humans.

Why the Myna was Brought to Australia

The Myna bird was first brought to Victoria Australia in 1863 to help control insects in Melbourne market gardens. Even though it proved unsuccessful at this, it was still introduced to Queensland to try to control grasshoppers and cane beetles.

Why the Myna is an Invasive Pest in Australia

The Myna has adapted well to the Australian environment and spread rapidly throughout the eastern states of Australia. It is the most common bird in urban areas competing with native birds for food and shelter.

The Myna's major crime is that it is an aggressive hollow-nesting bird that displacing less aggressive local birds and small mammals from their traditional nesting hollows. By doing so they reduce biodiversity resulting in these native animals dying or not being able to raise their young.

This has led to a decline in native species such as the Sugar Glider, Cockatoo, Rosella, Kookaburra, and small birds such as the Superb Fairy-Wren.

Dung Beetle Beneficial - Cleans up Cow-pats left by Millions of Cattle

What is a Dung Beetle?

The dung beetle is an important little insert which collects and buries the dung (faeces) of other animals. By doing this it helps recycle nutrients, aerate the soil and reduce flies.

There are over 400 species of native Australian dung beetles who bury the small dry dung pellets produced by native animals such as the kangaroo and wombat.

Why was the Dung Beetle Brought to Australia?

When Europeans started colonising Australia they discovered that the land was well suited for grazing cattle . There was a problem, however. Native dung beetles who had evolved over millions of years were adapted to the dry small dung pellets of local animals. They could not cope with the large wet cow-pats produced by cattle. As a result these cow-pats started to accumulate on grazing land, fouling the land, decreasing grass production and increasing the number of flies to plague-like proportions.

To solve the problem, in 1967-89 and again in 1990-1992, 47 different species of dung beetle were introduced from Europe, Africa and Hawaii. Of these, 23 species adapted to the Australian environment.

Why are the Introduced Dung Beetles a Success Story?

Released under strict quarantine and biological controls the introduced dung beetles have not adversely effected the local ecosystem. In fact they have been happily munching and burying cow-pats produced Australia's 30 million cattle ever since their introduction here.

Water Buffalo Feral - Destroy the Wetlands

Why the Water Buffalo was Brought to Australia

About 80 water buffalo were brought to Australia from Indonesia between 1825 and 1843 to provide people in remote settlements in the Northern Territory with milk and meat.

How Australian Buffalo Become Feral

These early settlements were unsuccessful and were abandoned in the 1850s. The buffaloes were set free and thrived in the Australian wetlands, rapidly spreading throughout the area. In the 1980s it was estimated that there were more than 350,000 feral buffaloes in the Northern Territory alone.

Why the Buffalo is Bad for Australia

The buffalo have been become a major environmental disaster in the wetlands of the north. Their wallowing habit severely damages native flora not accustomed to being trampled and squashed and they muddy up waterways killing native fish.

A major culling operation was undertaken some time ago and the population of buffalo is now manageable and numbering about 80,000.

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