Grazing goats help sunbaking skinks in Royal Park

Goats in Royal Park
Goats in Royal Park
Goats in Royal Park
Goats in Royal Park
Goats in Royal Park
Carol Saffer

A herd of goats is spending winter in Royal Park, but they are there to work and not to frolic.

Their task is to munch down the weeds that hamper the home of the significant White’s Skink population which has called Royal Park home for more than 20 years.

White’s Skinks are grey-brown lizards that prefer rocky habitats with well-developed canopy cover.

They are swift-moving and love basking in the sun, foraging on rocky outcrops or sheltering in burrows under rock slabs or logs.

The increase in weeds and exotic grasses in the park has reduced the quality of the skinks’ habitat and hence the need for the goats to move in on Friday, July 15.

Thanks to the City of Melbourne trial in partnership with The University of Melbourne to regenerate the locale, the goats get a feast, the skinks get to sunbake, and the council eliminates the use of herbicides.

Acting Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the council was eager to see if the goats could work their grazing magic and help improve the habitat for the White’s Skinks in this area of Royal Park.

“We’re not kidding about our important ecological systems – the scale of this project is enough to make a White’s Skink blush,” he said.

Goats will be gradually introduced to seven more fenced-off plots in Royal Park before moving out in early spring.

Eight additional plots left in their natural state will be used as control sites.

In autumn 2023, all of the plots’ condition will be analysed.

The University of Melbourne Urban Ecology Research Fellow Julian Brown said the University valued its involvement in helping develop evidence-based urban landscape management techniques.

“By comparing grazed and ungrazed plots, we can determine whether goats can safely remove the weeds and help restore the habitat of White’s Skink,” he said.

While an active supporter of the initiative, Friends of Royal Park secretary Kay Oddie raised the issue of publicising the goats’ arrival.

“I didn’t expect it to be for a ‘launch’ to be, reported with ‘bells and whistles’,” Ms Oddie said.

“I am not sure that publicity is called for this project at this point.”

She said the site was an isolated area in the park, and there would not be much surveillance. 

“In the past, vandalism has occurred here, so the last thing we want is a youth or other misguided people hassling the goats or worse,” she said.

Ms Oddie referred to examples of unacceptable behaviour in the park.

“A man deliberately kicking a football into a flock of galahs last Saturday,” she said.

“Dog owners allow their dogs to chase birds or swim in the pond, and youths have set fire to the area where the skinks are.”

Graze Away Goats owner Colin Arnold supplied the animals for Royal Park.

He said in the 15 years, and at the 50 sites he had grazed goats, the relationship between animals and the public was terrific.

“The South African Boer goats I breed myself because they have a docile temperament,” he said.

For more than five years, graze Away Goats have been at Abbey Walk in the City of Whitehorse, a public recreational area, and never had an issue.

“In all of my sites in 15 years, we have only had one issue when a small dog bit a goat,” Mr Arnold said. •


Photo credits: Murray Enders and David Paul, Museums Victoria for the skinks.

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