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Scholar profile: Han Shiong Siah

Scholar profile: Han Shiong Siah

Multi-pronged approach needed to control flying feral vermin

 

Adopting multiple technologies and strategies could be the answer to managing one of Northern Australia’s most damaging pests, magpie geese, according to a new report released today by 2015 Nuffield Scholar and Northern Territory producer, Han Shiong Siah.

Mr Siah works as an agronomist on his family’s tropical fruit orchard, Tropical Primary Products, located south-east of Darwin, which produces mangoes, jackfruit, durian, pomelo, cempedak and water apples, amongst other small trial crops.

Supported by ANZ Bank and the Northern Territory Government, his Nuffield report seeks to identify alternative and cost-effective methods to control flying feral vermin, most notably magpie geese.

Mr Siah said the family’s orchard, particularly during mango harvest season, has continued to experience increased larger flock landings in recent years, but has also seen the magpie geese’s ability to evolve and adapt to environmental changes.

“Magpie geese are a major problem in Australia’s north. In the mango industry, farmers have estimated damage of up to 20 per cent of their annual crops,” Mr Siah said.

“Managing on-farm bird numbers and minimising crop damage has placed significant pressure on farmers, with commonly used deterrent strategies producing mixed results in their effectiveness.

“My Nuffield journey emerged from a need to find effective ways to manage magpie geese and other bird populations, and mitigate crop damage in our orchards, the farms of our neighbours and our peers in Northern Australia.

“It allowed me to see first-hand the novel, unusual and smarter methods to boost farm productivity and manage feral pests from other producers in Africa, Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand.”

The final report takes a close look at six categories of deterrent types involving light, drones, auditory, chemicals, natural predators and environmental modification.

“No single pest approach is fool proof – a multi-pronged approach is key,” Mr Siah said.

“In isolation, many of the strategies will only have a certain level of success before magpies eventually adapt and familiarise.

“Visual deterrents are one strategy to disperse pest birds, but laser technology to scare birds is highly effective in the right conditions, although more research is needed to optimise the strength of laser beams to suit the environment and wildlife in Northern Australia.

“There are also several sound deterrents available that play the calls of distressed birds, birds of prey or bird nuisances, with careful selection and correct speaker type having a role to play in their overall effectiveness.

“However, natural predators remain one of the safest and most effective deterrents, such as trained dogs to disperse birds at airports and the installation of falconry boxes on farms around the world.”

Mr Siah said newer technologies like the “Robird” drone or land-based drone “Goosinator” may be used as a quieter option for farms close to metropolitan areas, although further analysis and testing is needed in Australia.

“Our orchard is only 50km from the centre of Darwin, which means that we’re feeling the effects of the urban sprawl, together with restrictions on permitted noise levels,” he said.

“These types of drones, which are not currently available in Australia, would benefit from in-field trials to determine how suitable they would be against magpie geese.

“In addition, there’s a number of technologies still at proof of concept stage, so working with developers on trials to evaluate their effectiveness in this part of the world would be highly beneficial.

“Access to better and safer technologies allows that money spent on deterring, dispersing and managing bird landings on our farms, to instead be invested back into the business, which is great news for farmers.

“And with a global population swelling to nine billion in years to come, that just makes good sense to me,” he said.

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