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How can pest animal control programs be made more humane?

Many introduced and some native animals are classed as ‘pests’; because they have a negative impact on the environment or agricultural production. RSPCA Australia recognises that in certain circumstances it is necessary to control populations of these animals in order to reduce or remove their adverse impact, provided any measures are properly justified, effective and humane.

Any measures taken to reduce or eradicate a specific population of ‘pest’ animals must recognise that these animals require the same level of consideration for their welfare as that given to domestic and native animals.

RSPCA Australia supports the following principles for humane pest animal control:

  1. The aims or benefits and the harms of each control program must be clear. Control should only be undertaken if the benefits outweigh the harms. Control must definitely be necessary, and the benefits must be clearly identified so that they can be maximised and any anticipated harms minimised. This requires a sound understanding of the impacts of the pest in each case. It must be decided whether the aim is to reduce or avoid impacts or eradicate the pests, as the control method may be different or conflicting in each case.
  2. Control should only be undertaken if there is a likelihood that the aims can be achieved. If the proposed benefits are not achievable the control program cannot be justified. The probability of benefit needs to be assessed and even if the harms are low, control should not be undertaken if the likelihood of benefit is low.
  3. The most humane methods that will achieve the control program’s aims must be used. This relies upon an active research and development program to improve the humaneness of existing methods and develop more humane alternative methods.
  4. The methods that most effectively and feasibly achieve the aims of the control program must be used. The method must have the most effective impact on target pests with the least harm to non-target animals, people and the environment. This means that the methods must be appropriate for the species and the situation. The choice will therefore depend on knowledge of which methods can best achieve the aims with the target-species in their particular locations.
  5. The methods must be applied in the best possible way. This is achieved by good quality control applied to, for example, the manufacture, selection, operation, placement, maintenance and effective use of devices, poisons and other components of each control method.
  6. Whether or not each control program actually achieved its aim must be assessed. In reality, control programs do not always achieve their aims. Whether or not this is the case must be determined, so that if necessary, methods can be changed to those that are more likely to achieve the desired aims. The real measure of success is whether a pest control program reduces the negative impacts of pests, not merely whether the number of pests is reduced following control.
  7. Once the desired aims or benefits have been achieved, steps must be taken to maintain the beneficial state. If that were not done, the control program and any suffering it causes would be purposeless.
  8. Where there is a choice of methods, there needs to be a balance between humaneness, community perception, feasibility, emergency needs and efficacy.

Further information on these principles is provided in the Humane Vertebrate Pest Control Discussion Paper 2004 attached below.

Finally, control methods should be carried out in accordance with the codes of practice (COPs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) produced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and funded by the Australian Government Department of the Environment Water Heritage and the Arts. Copies of the COPs and SOPs are available at the following site:


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Updated on August 6, 2021
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